With the recent closing of the purchase of the Sands Casino in Bethlehem by Wind Creek Hospitality for $1.3 billion, the question of the legality of video “games of skill” remains a focus and a hot topic within the Commonwealth. Many of these games are a significant source of income for many businesses, including liquor license establishments, which have been allowing them on their licensed premises since a 2014 decision in Beaver County that ruled that a video game machine manufactured by Pace-O-Matic was not a “gambling device per se.”
Since that controversial decision, the legality of these games has been an unknown gray area. As recently as a February 2019 Advisory Opinion, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (“Board”) refused to give any direction on the issue, simply stating that unlawful gambling is a violation of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, and directed the licensee to the Pennsylvania State Police – Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (“LCE”), which enforces the Liquor Code for guidance.
That’s why a recent email sent out by the Board has shocked the industry. In that email, the Board advised all licensees that according to the Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania Lottery, these skill games are illegal and any licensee that has one of these machines on their licensed premises could be subject to a citation. With case law in the Commonwealth stating that even one citation could lead to a non-renewal of a licensee’s liquor license, the mere possibility of a citation could be enough to make any licensee decide to remove these skill games for their licensed premises.
This email elicited a strong response from Pace-O-Matic, calling the email by the Board “DEAD WRONG” with regard to their machines and stating that they would be taking appropriate legal action against the Board to correct the record. They also took the step to advise licensees that “… the [Board] confirmed that they WILL NOT be suspending licenses.”
As you can tell, this issue is far from resolved and there is sure to be more news and updates in the coming months. For now, the Board’s email could signal ramped-up enforcement. If LCE believes a video game is an illegal gambling device, the licensee can face a citation and the video game can be confiscated. Fines could exceed $1,000 and a suspension could be imposed, making these “skill games” a gamble for licensees.
For additional information regarding this matter or if you are a licensee that has been cited for having one of these machines on your premises, please contact me, David C. Berger, Esquire, at email@example.com. For information regarding federal and Pennsylvania liquor law matters, please contact Liquor Law Department Chair Theodore J. Zeller III, Esquire, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our offices at (610) 391-1800.