Pace-O-Matic (POM), the developer of skill game machines found throughout Pennsylvania, has won another legal battle. In 2021, the District Attorney’s Office in Monroe County, north of Philadelphia, seized 13 of the company’s machines from a Fill and Fly gas station and Joe’s Tobacco shop. The DA claimed the games were illegal games of chance. The stores sued, insisting that the machines were legal.
Monroe County Common Pleas Judge Jennifer Harlacher Sibum sided with the plaintiffs. She ruled that the machines are games of skill and therefore legal. She noted that the state had failed to prove its claims and ruled that the DA must return the machines as well as the cash it had seized.
Pace-O-Matic spokesperson Mike Barley said:
This ruling reaffirms our status as legal games of skill. This is another tremendous victory for Pennsylvania Skill games, powered by Pace-O-Matic, and our Pennsylvania small business and fraternal partners.
The Keystone State allows Video Gaming Terminals (VGTs) and slots, but only at specific locations, like truck stops and casinos. POM’s machines inhabit a gray area, allowing it to place them at various small businesses, including restaurants, bars, and convenience stores.
The company says that the machines contribute to the local economy and help these partner businesses. POM adds that 90% of profits stay within the state. To build the devices, it enlists Pennsylvania’s Miele Manufacturing, which employs about 200 people.
As a result, it has been hard for lawmakers in Pennsylvania and other states to decide what to do about Pace-o-Matic games and similar machines. Efforts to regulate them – and make them explicitly legal – meet with opposition from casino and VGT operators. However, efforts to ban them get pushback from the businesses and workers that rely on the revenue they generate.
Pennsylvania Skill Machines Differ From Slots, VGTs
Gambling is strictly regulated, but legal definitions of gambling usually hinge on the question of skill versus chance. To be “gambling,” an activity must possess three elements:
- Consideration: You must pay to play.
- Chance: Winnings are random.
- Reward: You receive something of value if you win.
While Pace-o-Matic games resemble slots and VGTs, the gameplay differs because of the addition of a skill element. The company claims that players need “memory retention skills, pattern recognition skills, and eye-hand dexterity” to succeed.
Most of its games involve slots-like reels with paylines based on Tic Tac Toe. Players must determine where to place a Wild to form a winning combination within the time limit. In addition, there is a “follow me” section where players must follow color patterns, similar to the game Simon.
Other skill game companies use different gimmicks for their machines. There’s no straightforward legal test to determine how much of a role skill must play in a game for it not to be considered gambling. In Pennsylvania, precedent is on the side of Pace-o-Matic. However, other courts in other states have ruled differently on other companies’ products.
Are there Skill Games At Online Casinos?
Traditional games of skill include chess, solitaire, and backgammon. Online casinos have yet to jump on board with these skill games. However, multiple companies are exploiting the gray area around real money skill gaming in the online space. Skillz is one such operator, though it has had a controversial history and faced multiple lawsuits from players and investors.
Another place we see arguments about the legal definition of a “game of skill” is when it comes to traditional forms of gambling that contain a skill component.
The presence of a skill factor has helped expand legal online sports betting. Bettors must use their knowledge of the sport, team, and players to increase their chances. The more they know, the higher their chances of winning. Even in states without legal online sports betting, players can participate in another similar game where skill is used, daily fantasy sports. Once again, the participants’ knowledge increases their chances significantly.
A new type of gaming, esports, might also fall under this category. While still growing and not legal to bet in many states, that may soon change, including in PA. Recently, PA Rep. Ed Neilson urged lawmakers to legalize sports betting and take advantage of its growing popularity.
Some classic casino games like blackjack and online poker also fall under the skill category. In the case of poker, there have been many attempts over the years to use its skill component to circumvent anti-gambling laws, though often without success.