Why Pennsylvania Is Fighting Skill Based Slot Machines

Pennsylvania Symbol With a Slots Background

Skill-based slot machines are raging at bars, laundry mats, restaurants, and other types of businesses. Many gamblers have opted for these skill video slots in the absence of other options.

Lucky for these same players, PA casinos are set to reopen soon. But Pennsylvanians Against Illegal Gambling (PAIG) would like to see the skill-based games gone in the aftermath.

Why do certain interests in the Keystone State want these games banned so badly? I’ll cover this matter by discussing the nature of skill gaming terminals and why they’re so controversial.

How Does a PA Skill Slot Machine Work?

You won’t notice much difference between a skill-based and regular slot in Pennsylvania casinos. This is exactly why many interchangeably refer to skill terminals as slot machines.

However, these games do feature minor difference from average slots. First off, they include interactive elements that normally require gamblers to use some form of skill to win.

Here’s an example:

  • You spin the slots reels and unlock a bonus game.
  • The bonus shows you different pictures and flips them all over.
  • You must remember where the selected pictures are to win money.
  • The bonus features a series of rounds where you have less time to choose the given pictures.

You can see the difference between this and a normal slot. The latter merely requires you to spin the reels and rely on 100% luck to win.

Skill-based gaming also makes you spin the reels. But it gives you an opportunity to use skill to win during bonuses too.

Reasons Why PAIG and Pennsylvania Casinos Hate Skill Slots

These terminals provide something different from the rest of PA’s gaming market. However, they’re unpopular among licensed casinos and the PAIG for the following reasons.

Less Benefit to the State

Pennsylvania features one of the highest gambling tax rates in the world. It levies a 54% tax on operating profits from slot machines.

The state uses the hefty revenue it collects to support the following programs:

  • Economic Development and Tourism Fund
  • City and county governments
  • Senior citizen benefits, including meals, tax rebates, and prescription medicine
  • Preserving the horse racing industry

Skill-based slots operators don’t cover anywhere near this same tax. Instead, they merely pay regular income taxes.

The state still receives some revenue from these machines. However, they’re not getting anywhere close to a 54% rate.

Over 20,000 skill video slots exist throughout the Keystone State. PAIG estimates that these terminals cost government programs an estimated $200 million each year through competition.

The House Still Wins

Any gambler can get lucky with a slot machine and win big. However, the average player loses to casinos in the long run.

Most PA slot machines feature a house edge ranging from 5% to 10%. Gambling establishments are guaranteed to win at this rate.

Closeup of Skill Based Slot Machine

Skill-based gaming terminals create the illusion that players can earn long-term profits. After all, they use their abilities to influence outcomes.

But these machines still provide an advantage to the house when everything is said and done. The skill only influences a small portion of the RTP.

Skill Slot Machines Not Leaving PA Any Time Soon

PAIG, casinos, and Governor Wolf aren’t fans of skill-based terminals. Certain local governments and police departments don’t like them either.

Police have even seized these machines in some areas. However, Pennsylvania officials have been unsuccessful at banning skill machines so far.

Superior Court Judge Patricia McCullough ruled that skill video slots constitute unlicensed gaming. She also noted, though, that unlicensed slots aren’t “subject to the [Pennsylvania] Gaming Act.”

Therefore, PA’s gambling laws don’t cover unlawful gaming. PAIG wants legislators to rewrite the laws to ensure that skill terminals fall under unlicensed gambling are indeed illegal.

Will Skill Based Slots Machines Eventually Be Banned?

The Keystone State is one of many states that are either currently fighting or have fought against skill terminals.

Florida businesses, for example, were offering pre-reveal slot machines. They argued that such games were legal because they reveal whether a player will win or lose the next round.

The only thing that remains hidden is whether a player will earn more or less than their bet size. Real money casino gamblers can use this information to determine whether they want to play the next round. Therefore, pre-reveal games include a degree of skill.

Pre-reveal machines still give the house an advantage. They’re not any different from standard slots in this regard.

Row of Skill Based Slot Machines

Florida courts eventually ruled that pre-reveal games constitute illegal gambling. The same kind of decision could befall PA skill-based terminals one day.

For now, though, these machines continue operating throughout Pennsylvania. Everything from laundry mats to convenience stores offer skill slots.

Relevant business owners have enjoyed an increase in revenue thanks to these machines. As a result, they and the developers are fighting to keep skill-based machines alive.


PAIG has ramped up efforts to get these machines banned. Governor Tom Wolf agrees with this movement.

PA courts are looking into the matter. For the time being, though, skill-based terminals continue running because they fall outside the Gaming Act’s jurisdiction.