Opinion: State regulation means an end to illegal games

Opinion: State regulation means an end to illegal games

I was in a Western Pennsylvania grocery store recently and the owner detailed to me all the renovations he is making to his business and the health insurance he is able to provide for his employees.

Having this type of conversation is not unusual for me. I am part of a team of compliance officers for Pennsylvania Skill games. We travel the state visiting businesses, veterans posts, fraternal groups and volunteer fire companies that have legal skill games. We love to hear about their successes, but our job is to make sure they are following the law and Pennsylvania Skill’s strict rules. As a former Pennsylvania State Police trooper, I understand the importance of adhering to proper conduct and state laws.

Most of the time, our visits end up like the one at the grocery store, where we hear about the employees they have been able to hire, the improvements they have made, the community organizations they have donated to — all because of skill games. But, on occasion, my trips are to firmly remind locations of Pennsylvania Skill’s stringent compliance standards. In the very rare instance that an establishment is not abiding by these terms — we remove our games.

I, however, can only monitor legal Pennsylvania Skill games, not the illegal games flooding the market. For that, we need state regulation. Legislation proposed by Sen. Gene Yaw of Williamsport would regulate skill games, giving law enforcement the tools they need to identify and rid the commonwealth of illegal games.

This is a win for everyone in the state. Not only would it stop mini casinos and other eyesore gaming parlors from popping up in our neighborhoods, but it would tax legal games, providing the state with over $250 million in tax revenue per year.

Just to be clear, legal skill games aren’t like casino games. They are based on skill, not chance. Also, they can only be played in person — not on a phone or computer — making them a uniquely local gaming revenue stream. Much of the money from legal skill games stays in the community where the games are located.

Opponents of the proposed regulations are mostly casinos. They spin an untrue narrative, and the real reason they oppose skill games is the perceived competition. Yet, no proof exists that skill games are a financial rival. In fact, casinos continue to break revenue records every year.

Other critics dispute Pennsylvania Skill games’ legality even as numerous court decisions in the state affirm that skill games are legal. Every time the legality of Pennsylvania Skill games has been challenged, their legal status has been upheld.

Although they won’t talk about it, casinos have major compliance problems. The industry loves to throw words like "regulated" and "integrity," but the reality is that many have incurred serious penalties for violations. Just this year, Penn Entertainment’s Hollywood Casino had underage children playing their slot machines; individuals who self-identified themselves as having a gambling problem were permitted to game at their facility; and a woman left her child in an unattended vehicle while gambling inside. I put these out there simply to showcase the extreme hypocrisy in their narrative.

As it relates to the scores of illegal gambling devices in the commonwealth, there really isn’t much of a process in place. Otherwise, more of them would be gone. We need to make sure there is accountability for everyone. We need to pass state regulation of skill games.


Rick Goodling is a retired Pennsylvania State Police Trooper and head of Compliance for Pennsylvania Skill Games. This opinion piece was originally published on Aug. 21, 2023, on TribLive.

Rick Goodling is a retired Pennsylvania State Police trooper and head of compliance for Pennsylvania Skill games.

Back to blog