Pennsylvania lawmaker calls for investigation into closed-door meetings between gambling regulators and casino lobbyists

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HARRISBURG — Two Pennsylvania lawmakers say executives met informally with casino lobbyists about key competitors and failed to disclose in public records what the meeting was required by the regulator’s ethics rule. It requested an investigation from the State Gaming Control Board after a Spotlight PA article detailing

State Senator Jean Yeo (Republican, Lycoming) and State Rep. Jared Solomon (Democrat, Philadelphia) wrote to the State Attorney General’s Office and the State Ethics Commission, respectively, that the Gambling Commission for Compliance He called for a review of its conduct and a review of its internal policies. It was established to protect government agencies from outside influence.

In a letter to the state ethics commission obtained by Spotlight PA, Solomon said, “Pennsylvanians must be confident that the regulatory agencies established by Congress are acting with integrity and following the law.” wrote.

Games Control Commission spokesman Richard McGarvey said officials had not seen the letter and had no comment. In the past, another spokesperson told Spotlight PA that officials acted appropriately in dealings with lobbyists.

It is unclear whether the lawmakers’ request for an investigation will be honored. A spokeswoman for the state attorney general’s office said she could not comment, noting that Skill Games is “the subject of numerous lawsuits.”

State Ethics Commission Executive Director Mary Fox said the agency neither confirmed nor denied the existence of the investigation. The agency is tasked with investigating suspected violations of state ethics laws that regulate the conduct of public officials and employees.

Earlier this year, the Spotlight Pennsylvania newspaper reported that lobbyists at Parks Casino in Bucks County, the state’s largest casino, were involved in a fierce behind-the-scenes effort to force the Gaming Control Board to abandon its intervention stance on skill games. reported to have embarked.

Skill games are similar to slot machines and have proliferated over the past decade at convenience stores, gas stations, restaurants and social clubs across the state.

Unlike slot machines and other forms of casino gambling, skill games are not regulated by Gaming Control Boards. Nor are they taxed at as high a rate as casino slots.

As a result, the Skillgaming industry has become a prime target for some casino executives and their lobbyists, who argue that the machines are illegal and should be banned in the state.

Emails and other documents obtained by Spotlight Pennsylvania show that these executives launched a fierce campaign out of public view to persuade officials to remove skill games from the state’s gambling environment. bottom.

The news agency previously revealed that, following a private meeting with Parks lobbyists in early 2019, executives from the Gaming Control Board decided to join the lawsuit seeking to declare Skill Gaming illegal. was

Officials did not report on the meeting in public records. Logs are mandated by the board’s code of ethics, which severely limits when and how companies regulated by the agency can communicate with board members and certain staff members who advise the board.

The Game Control Board publishes two logs on its website. The first tracked one-sided communications, defined as off-the-record conversations about issues that were “disputed and potentially discussed on record.” The second log lists discussions held between members of the board and representatives of gambling companies authorized by or applied to the board.

The latest unsolicited log entry is dated March 2013. The most recent entry in the second log is dated May 2016.

First off, lawyers for the Gaming Control Board told Spotlight PA that the meeting with Mr. Parks didn’t meet the definition of a meeting requiring public disclosure and therefore didn’t need to be included in either record. Told.

In a letter to state ethics commissions, Mr. Solomon said it was “incredulous” that the logs had been stagnant for years.

In a letter to the state attorney general’s office, Yeo wrote that the Gaming Commission and the Pennsylvania State Police have taken an increasingly aggressive stance against skill gaming over the past five years. The state police’s Bureau of Prohibition of Enforcement is increasing its seizures of skill games from establishments across the state, he said.

As it stands, skill games operate in a legal gray area. These games are not specifically sanctioned by state gambling laws and have been the subject of multiple lawsuits over their legality, including one pending in Commonwealth Court.

Pace-O-Matic, a company in Pennsylvania that makes software for most skill games, says it takes a level of human skill, not pure chance, for its products to win dividends. claims. Company officials say they are open to licensing and taxation, but the company does not believe that the same 54% tax should be imposed on revenues paid out in casino slots. Pace-O-Matic is suing the Gaming Control Board and others for targeting its industry.

A district of Yeo has a maker of skill games and has introduced a bill to tax and regulate games. A similar bill was introduced in the last parliamentary session, but did not pass. One reason is that proposals to amend or update Pennsylvania’s gambling laws have sparked frenzied lobbying by competing stakeholders, making it difficult to reach consensus.

In an interview last week, Yeo said he received a response from the Attorney General that appeared reluctant to delve into the issue of skill games given the ongoing lawsuit over the game’s legality.

Yeo said the legal battle did not prevent law enforcement from reviewing the case. He said that under gambling law, the board has jurisdiction only over entities that grant licenses. He added that it is the legislature’s job to determine gambling policy.

“They shouldn’t have gotten involved in the skill game debate,” he said.

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