Since 2018, the gambling landscape in Pennsylvania is one that seems to have changed with each passing month. Nowadays, the sphere of influence the legal gambling industry has attained is such that it is difficult to envision a time when gambling was illegal in PA (something that was very much the case less than 20 years ago).
Despite all the freedoms that the Keystone State’s gamblers have attained in less than two years, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has recently made it clear that this isn’t a free-for-all. “Skill-based” video games, the likes of which see virtual football games and stock car races play out on a screen, have made their way into many licensed bars and restaurants, but the Gaming Control Board says that they are neither approved by the state’s Gaming Act nor licensed by the gaming commission.
Commonwealth Court Has Issued Multiple Rulings
When PA relaxed its gaming laws to allow for certain types of real money gambling to take place in places like bars and restaurants, the impetus behind this move was keno and bingo-style games that could be played passively, most of the time for low stakes.
At the end of the day, the state’s courts have reasoned that these games being skill-based inherently precludes them from being approved under the Gaming Act. From here, we go back to the ages-old argument of whether playing a skill-based game for money constitutes gambling or not. Proponents of these devices argue that they are not gambling machines at all, but rather a skill-based game. Citing a 2014 decision from a Beaver Falls (near Pittsburgh, PA) court of common pleas that held that skill-based games are not gambling devices, proponents argued that the PA Gaming Control Board cannot step in and ban these games.
The state’s courts have time and time again held that if these devices are not approved by the state’s gaming control board, they are not able to be played for real money. At the end of the day however, there has been no official ruling from the PA Supreme Court, which leaves these games in a bit of a legal grey-area.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Moving forward, it is unclear how this situation is going to unfold. On one hand, state lawmakers could step in and put something on the books that allows for the existence of these games to be unequivocally legal. On the other hand, they could step in and do the opposite, effectively making it illegal for establishments to offer these types of games. For now, however, the issue will be left up to local jurisdictions.
By and large, we expect that local courts will rule that these gaming machines are not legal nor sanctioned by the Gaming Act, but as attitudes towards gambling become increasingly friendly, there is no reason why a local court could not do the exact opposite and allow for their continued existence. This story, while confusing, does well to highlight the fact that there will always be legal grey areas, regardless of how ironclad your state’s gambling legislation may appear to be.