As Pennsylvania struggles to regulate skill gaming and distinguish it from illegal gambling, a Harrisburg polling firm published findings this week that suggest overwhelming support among the state's restaurant and social club establishments for legal skill game machines as a vital revenue source amid the ongoing pandemic.
According to the survey, conducted by Harrisburg-based Harper Polling from Sept. 9-14, 91% of responding establishments said skill game machines manufactured by Pace-O-Matic Pennsylvania Skill of Williamsport are beneficial to their businesses. Sixty-four percent said customers stay longer because of them.
Harper Polling said respondents were small business owners of bars, restaurants, convenience stores and clubs such as the American Legion who offer skill-based machine-operated games to attract customers. Pace-O-Matic Pennsylvania Skill of Williamsport has long maintained its products are games based on skill, not chance, and therefore aren’t subject to regulations as slot machines under the state’s Game Act.
Restrictions placed on the capacity and operations of dining establishments had negative impacts on 72% of respondents. The survey reported an average 55% loss of customers, and 58% decline in monthly revenue from restrictions. But the survey reported that 53% of establishments found that skill games helped them stay afloat.
Survey data is the first major release from Harper Polling after being acquired by D.C.-based polling company Cygnal, who said it acquired Harper to gain access to "elite" policy and lobbying circles in Harrisburg.
"Our polling highlights that these businesses and fraternal clubs are struggling right now and some have thought they might need to close," said Harper Polling President Brock McCleary. "But with the revenue they receive from skill games, they are able to make extra money and that is critical right now."
Former U.S. Congressman Tom Marino, who currently serves as vice president of government affairs for Pace-O-Matic Pennsylvania Skill, said results indicate that lawmakers should pass the legal skill games legislation proposed by Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Williamsport.
"[Pace-O-Matic PA Skill] is a good company and they want to maintain operations here in Pennsylvania I am fully prepared to welcome them with open arms," he said at Wednesday’s press conference, pointing to "millions of dollars" the business contributes to the state's tax revenue.
Wheeland, who represents Williamsport where Pace-o-Matic Pennsylvania Skill Games manufactures machines and who has a top contributor in Operators for Skill PAC, said his legislation would provide a model for enforcement of skill gaming regulation while increasing state tax revenue.
"Another component that needs to be discussed is the illegal slot machines that have permeated businesses from out of the commonwealth — literally tens of thousands of machines that are coming from out of state, sometimes from outside the country — they do not pay one penny to the commonwealth, whereas the skill games are a source income to the commonwealth," Wheeland added. "As the debate starts in both the House and the Senate, you can look for that to be part of the dialogue."
Legislation to more closely regulate gaming technology has drawn support from members of both parties in the General Assembly. Rep. Danilo Burgos, D-Philadelphia, said minority community members employed at stores and restaurants "understand the importance of skill games in our businesses."
"These games have helped businesses stay afloat," he said.
Burgos also pointed to charitable contributions made by Pennsylvania Skill, most recently a $250,000 donation to food banks across the state. Feeding Pennsylvania Executive Director Jane Clements-Smith said the funds provide the equivalent of 750,000 meals.
Nicole Miele, director of charitable giving for Pennsylvania Skill, said the organization has a goal of donating $1 million in 2020 to "give back on the local level and do what we can do to make life better for all Pennsylvanians."
This article originally appeared in Central Penn Business Journal on September 16, 2020.