Lawmaker aims to crack down on Pennsylvania Skill gaming

READING, Pa. - A state lawmaker wants to crack down on those "Pennsylvania Skill" games you see in some bars and gas stations.

Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, a Bucks County Republican, said the more than 5,000 machines in the state are taking millions of dollars away from programs that help seniors by way of the Pennsylvania Lottery.

"These machines are essentially picking the pockets of our senior citizens," Tomlinson said during a news conference in Harrisburg on Monday.

Tomlinson said the lottery, which funds senior services, lost out on about $138 million over the past year because of the games. Lottery dollars help Reading-based Berks Encore serve seniors.

"It affects programs like home- and community-based services, the kind of services that will keep people independent in their home and out of the skilled nursing or medical system," said Luann Oatman, president of Berks Encore.

The games are currently unregulated, unlicensed and un-taxed. They operate through a so-called loophole in the law, by being games that require skill.

"The ability to serve a growing number of older adults will be decreased with each dollar that's lost to the Pennsylvania lottery," Oatman said.

Tomlinson's bill could create stiffer penalties for operators and give police more authority to seize games and assets.

Some game machine owners are concerned, but they said based on what they've seen, there's enough room for people who want to play the Pennsylvania Lottery and Pennsylvania Skill.

"I was very concerned because these skill game machines helped us for the past year," said Samir Sheth, who owns the Friendly Food Mart in Wyomissing.

Sheth said, contrary to what bill supporters say, he's seen a spike in sales since bringing in the machines. He said both can exist together

"There are a few customers who would still not play those machines because they want the scratch-off feeling, you know," Sheth said.

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