This Week's Story About An Important Case Regarding Skill Games
Attention Liquor Licensee’s: Here’s an Important New Court Case
Regarding Electronic Gaming Machines
An important case regarding “skill games” was recently issued by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. The court issued an opinion in the case of Pinnacle Amusement, LLC v. Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement. By way of background, in 2019 and 2020, investigators from the Bureau of Liquor Code Enforcement (BCLE) conducted cross-county undercover operations at several liquor-licensed establishments. The investigations centered around several varieties of electronic gaming machines. After BLCE's investigations, which involved paying consideration, engaging in gameplay on the devices, and receiving rewards in the form of vouchers that could be exchanged for currency, the BCLE seized 11 machines from their respective establishments. Ten of the 11 gaming devices were operated by Banilla Games and owned by Pinnacle.
Pinnacle filed a motion for return of property in the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County for its gaming machines that were seized by the BLCE. The Bureau filed a response in opposition to Pinnacle’s motion. An evidentiary hearing was held by the Court of Common Pleas. The Court of Common Pleas concluded that Pinnacle’s gaming machines did not constitute gambling devices, per se, and thus were not subject to forfeiture. The Court of Common Pleas relied upon experts presented by Pinnacle. These experts opined that the games were skill games rather than games of chance.
The BLCE filed an appeal of the Court of Common Pleas decision to the Commonwealth Court. The Commonwealth Court found that the Court of Common Pleas findings were supported by substantial evidence, and therefore, it did not err in granting Pinnacle’s motion for return of property.
It is unclear how this decision will affect the status of “skill games” in Pennsylvania in the immediate future. It can be argued that the Pinnacle case is very fact specific and can be distinguished from other enforcement cases brought by the Pennsylvania State Police and BLCE. The Pinnacle case involved specific types of gaming machines. The schematics of these machines would have to be carefully reviewed to determine whether they are the same as other machines offered by different manufactures. Also, the present case dealt with a forfeiture issue. Any future enforcement case that is initiated by the Pennsylvania State Police or BLCE would have to be scrutinized to determine if the issues and facts are similar.
Finally, the Commonwealth Court has not yet issued a decision in the POM of Pennsylvania LLC case. The issue to be decided in that case is directly on point with the issue of whether “skill games” in general are illegal.
If you own a liquor license and have or are considering having gaming machines on premises, do not hesitate to contact Scaringi Law at 717.657.7770.