Anti-Gambling Group Attacks Illegal Gaming in Pennsylvania

  • A report estimates $650m was lost to illegal machines
  • Skill machine prevalence has drastically increased over the past five years
  • Pennsylvanians Against Gaming Expansion sees the growth as a “red light”
  • The governor is not overly committed to either side of the debate
Liberty Bell
An anti-gaming group is lobbying for Pennsylvania to eliminate illegal skill-machine games. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

A damning report

A group named Pennsylvanians Against Gaming Expansion is calling for the shutdown of illegal games in the Quaker State.

The anti-gaming assembly based its remarks off a Pennsylvania Lottery analysis that revealed $650m in estimated losses due to “unregulated games of skill machines across the commonwealth.” 

The group also cited the Pennsylvania State Police, Office of Attorney General and the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board in saying that unregulated devices are illegal and harmful. 

Problems in Pennsylvania

The analysis, which also provides updates to the impact of skill games, revealed a massively unwanted economic impact from the use of unregulated games.

would in turn have generated over $200m more for older Pennsylvanians and local businesses”

“In the following report, we show detailed analyses that estimate more than $650m in Pennsylvania Lottery scratch sales have been lost to unregulated games of skill machines across the Commonwealth,” detailed the report. “To put it another way, the $14.9bn in scratch product sold between October 2017 and March 2022 could have been more than 4.4 per cent higher, which would in turn have generated over $200m more for older Pennsylvanians and local businesses during that time.”

The probe also revealed that, since 2017, the amount of on-site skill game machines had increased 17 times over. The number of retailers with at least one skill game has also multiplied by eight, the number of skill games by six, and skill machines have permeated every county in the state. 

According to the anti-gaming expansion group, the rapid growth of skill games needs to end.

“This analysis should serve as a flashing red light for lawmakers,” said Pennsylvanians Against Gaming Expansion Spokesman Pete Shelly. “It is time, once and for all, to tighten state law and shut these machines down.”

The fight over expansion

Gambling in Pennsylvania is legal in nearly all forms, including in person and online, plus sports betting.

The state’s 16 casinos generated $5.04bn in fiscal year 2021-22, a new record high, according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. That number was $1.2bn higher than the previous fiscal year, which was still a near-$600m record.

However, the rapid growth has brought many debates over how to control the market. As it stands, the fight over the prevalence of skill-machine games remains highly contested.

For groups like Pennsylvanians Against Gaming Expansion, the negatives brought by the machines outweigh the positives.

they drain revenue from programs for seniors that the Pennsylvania Lottery funds”

“These machines do not generate a penny in gaming taxes,” said Shelly. “They also are bringing crime to communities across the state, and they drain revenue from programs for seniors that the Pennsylvania Lottery funds.”

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has taken a middle-ground approach on gambling. After signing a bill to expand gambling’s online and brick-and-mortar reach, he warned lawmakers in 2020 that his programs already provided a “multitude” of option for gamblers. He also made waves in 2021 by stating that he wanted to redirect gaming tax to a college tuition assistance fund.

Several local casinos were fined earlier this year for allowing self-excluded patrons to gamble at their facilities.