Published: February 28, 2023

Guest editorial | Regulate 'skill' games; fix lobby law

The following editorial appeared in the Scranton Times-Tribune. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune-Democrat.

Under the 2004 state law that authorized casino gambling, almost everything about the gambling enterprise is supposed to be subject to public disclosure. Now, it’s obvious Pennsylvania’s grossly inadequate lobbying disclosure law works against that mandated transparency.

The news organization Spotlight PA has reported that, weeks after a state Gaming Commission member and counsel met privately with two lobbyists for the Parx Casino, the board changed its position on a matter crucial to the casino industry.

Before the meeting, the board had been neutral on allowing unregulated, untaxed electronic “skill games” in bars, gas stations, convenience stores and so on. A few weeks after the meeting, the commission joined the casino industry in contending that the skill games are not allowed by state law.

That is the position that the commission should have taken without prodding from lobbyists, before as many as 70,000 of the machines (all of the state’s casinos have a combined 22,000 slot machines) went online across the state. Given that the state government’s primary interest in legal gambling is collecting its share of the vigorish – $2.12 billion of the $5.21 billion that gamblers lost to casinos during the fiscal year that ended June 30 – it’s bizarre that the commission would give a pass to any form of gambling.

Lack of regulation not only precludes tax revenue from “skill game” devices, but fails to protect consumers. Casinos, for example, are required to ensure that slot machines return 85% of the money bet as “payouts.” And casinos must enforce age restrictions and more to comply with their licenses.

Ideally, ongoing litigation will find that the devices are indeed illegal.

But in any case, the Legislature should recognize the need to improve lobbying disclosure.

Current law requires only broad disclosures about money spent, and does not require lobbyists to identify the legislators or executive branch officials with whom they meet, or to identify the specific subjects under discussion.

Lawmakers should require more specific disclosures so Pennsylvanians won’t have to guess about the provenance of policy decisions.

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