Mobile billboard draws attention to games

·3 min read

Apr. 28—A mobile billboard traveled through the area Tuesday calling attention to so-called illegal slot machines and skills games.

The folks behind the mobile sign, Pennsylvanians Against Gaming Expansion, are asking people to call a hotline to report these machines, which they say harm children.

"We're here today to draw attention to an issue this community is painfully aware of. The explosion of illegal slot machines across the state," said Pete Shelly, a spokesman for the group, at a news conference in downtown Hazleton.

He pointed to machines, such as skills games, video gambling terminals and poker machines that can be found in convenience stores, gas stations, pizza parlors, laundromats and places where kids gather, he said.

Shelly explained that anyone who puts a dollar into a machine and expects $5 or $10 back is playing a slot machine.

"There is no way around it," he said. "Pennsylvania law is pretty clear that slot machines are only allowed in licensed, regulated casinos."

Both the Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania Lottery have testified in Harrisburg about the impact of these machines, Shelly said.

"These illegal machines are draining the lottery. They entice kids to gamble," he said, citing state police testimony. "And they are magnets for crime as people in Hazleton are painfully aware."

Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that dedicates all its lottery funds to senior citizens, he said.

"So, it's a huge hit to senior citizens across the commonwealth," Shelly said.

Pennsylvania taxpayers also benefit more from gaming tax revenues more than any other state in the country, with some $1.5 billion going into the state's treasury each year, Shelly said.

The machines don't create new jobs, whereas legal gambling sites such as Mohegan Sun Pocono in Plains Twp. employs 1,400 to 1,500 people at full capacity and partners with dozens of other businesses, he said, noting that he has worked on behalf of the casinos.

Pennsylvanians Against Gaming Expansion is asking people to call a toll-free number (1-888-472-4418) to report the machines and is referring calls to state police and county district attorney's offices.

Enforcement has been mixed, but there have been raids in Berks, Delaware, Dauphin and Cumberland counties, Shelly said.

"We're trying to make more people aware of the crisis that these machines are causing across Pennsylvania," he said.

The billboard states that the machines entice children to gamble, and shows a picture of a child at a machine.

"I guarantee if you go into a store and wait long enough, you're going to see a minor gambling," Shelly said. "You would never see that in a licensed casino in Pennsylvania."

Legislation is in the works to outlaw skills games, and a battle in the courts continues over the games, he said.

"We are fighting for tougher legislation that would clarify the definition of a skills game," Shelly said.

The group asks that people call their legislators and ask them to oppose expansion in the state.

Local businesses have stated in the past that the games are different from the state lottery and are legal because they are games of skill, and not chance, based on a 2014 court ruling.

Contact the writer: kmonitz@standardspeaker.com; 570-501-3589