They look like slots machines. They sound like slots machines. And you can win cash payouts. But under Pennsylvania law, they’re not considered gambling devices.
Now, they’re coming to Bridgeville.
Pennsylvania Skill Games LLC, plans to open a venue at 602 Baldwin Street where patrons can attempt to win money by playing “skill based” electronic gaming machines that fall outside of Pennsylvania’s standard gambling and casino regulations. (Sometimes these gaming outlets are called “adult arcades,” a label that is incredibly problematic if you try to Google it).
This news, coming just four months after Bridgeville Borough Council approved an ordinance to ban mini-casinos from town, was greeted with apprehension by some officials.
“There is a company out there that was able to legally apply,” said councilman Joe Verduci earlier this month. “They can move in because it’s a game of skill, not a game of chance. Therefore that company does not have to go through the gaming commission… Hopefully it’s something that will be a positive, but I am concerned because this was the whole reason we did that ordinance.”
By law, standard casino slots machines in Pennsylvania are coded to pay out at least 85% of the money they take in. The machines’ design may lure you into thinking that whatever buttons you’re pushing has you on the verge of winning a jackpot, but it’s an illusion. Whether you actually win big—or win anything at all—is entirely a matter of chance.
The video gaming devices coming to Baldwin Street operate under a different illusion.
They have all of the audio-visual trappings of standard video slots machines—spinning reels, colorful graphics and chintzy casino sound effects. But it’s really just a snazzy version of tic-tac-toe. When the reels stop spinning, the player is given a limited amount of time to choose a “wild card” square to create the best possible combination of icons.
The upshot is the your chances of winning or losing money may hinge more on your mental dexterity than pure random luck.
Here’s a demonstration on an older machine (not necessarily one that will be in the Baldwin Street location):
If you reach the bonus round, you play what is basically a pirate-themed version of Angry Birds.
There’s also a mini-game involving memorization.
Pace-O-Matic, the Georgia-based company that designs and codes these machines, says on its website that “Pace-O-Matic does not engage in ‘gray area’ gaming. We do not allow our games and systems to be operated in markets where the operation of our products has been deemed non-compliant.”
Thusfar, Pennsylvania courts have upheld the legality of Pace-O-Matic’s machines.
Each of the three games installed on the confiscated machine is predominantly a game of skill rather than a game of chance. Successful play at the Tic-Tac-Toe game depends mainly on a player’s ability to recognize Tic-Tac-Toe patterns to maximize his or her score.
The bonus game is essentially a shooting game, requiring a player to target and touch numerous symbols on the screen to achieve a high score.
Finally, the Follow-Me mini-game, though immensely difficult for the average player, requires a great deal of cognitive ability for a player to remember the intricate sequence of flashing dots.
Because the preponderance of evidence fails to show that the three games are games of chance, the Commonwealth has failed to prove that the property seized is a gambling device per se.
Pennsylvania’s Superior Court reached a similar conclusion regarding a case in Bucks County.
The only potential recourse for residents opposed to this new business is to lobby their state representatives to regulate the skills-based gaming industry.
“There’s nothing we can do or have say about them moving in,” councilman Verduci said. “[My] suggestion is to talk to your state representatives and let it be known that you’re not happy, but there’s nothing really that we can do about it.”
Or just hope for the best.
Borough officials have been actively exploring strategies to reinvigorate Baldwin Street. Perhaps a skills-based gaming venue is the kind of oddball, attention-getting development that the area needs to spark interest from niche brunch spots, small coffee shops, boutique professional firms, or any of the other indicators of neighborhood revitalization.
Or maybe people will just put money into a machine in hopes of winning more money—based on the strength of their own skill, of course.