Casinos say PA ilottery offering games like slot machines unlawfully

PA Casinos To New PA Online Lottery Program: Get Off Our Lawn

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Not everyone is happy with everything in the Pennsylvania gambling expansion. Specifically, it is the casinos in the Keystone State that are up in arms. And they are targeting the new PA online lottery.

All 12 of the state’s current casino operators are urging Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration to suspend Pennsylvania’s iLottery program, which just launched in May.

Letter sent to PA governor on online lottery

In October 2017, Wolf signed off on an online gambling bill to expand and modernize the state’s online games while also legalizing online poker, daily fantasy sports, and sports betting. It was considered a coup for PA, which began rolling out its new iLottery game selections this spring.

Yet in a letter that was delivered to Revenue Secretary C. Daniel Hassell on Wednesday and obtained by PennLive, the state’s casinos claim that iLottery games encroach upon their own online games, which have yet to launch. The state’s iLottery program offers games that are available online and via the Pennsylvania Lottery app.

The casinos, however, argue that iLottery goes against language spelled out in that gambling expansion law, which, according to the letter, prohibits the PA Lottery from offering “games which simulate casino-style lottery games, specifically including roulette, poker, slot machines or blackjack.”

PA casinos vs. PA lottery

The casino operators said the iLottery games use the same “backbone” as the slot machines featured on casino floors. Though that “backbone” is a tad vague:

“An outcome that is determined by a random number generator with animated graphics and computer operations used to provide a visual depiction of that outcome.”

As broad as that description is, the casinos point out that iLottery games are offered in penny and dime denominations, a traditional setup for casinos but not for typical lottery products. Some games, the casinos said, even use the same names and themes of slot games. Continuing, the casinos allege that the PA Lottery has even admitted its misdeed by promoting “slot-style” and “casino-style” games.

A strong argument from the casinos surrounds age restrictions for gamblers. The new lottery games are available to those 18 years and older. But casinos cannot allow anyone younger than 21 years old from enjoying their games.

From the letter:

“If these same individuals tried to play the same games at our casinos … the players would be prosecuted and placed on the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s exclusion list, while we would face tens of thousands of dollars in PGCB-imposed fines.”

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What’s going to happen?

In their letter, the casinos have suggested they collaborate with the PA Department of Revenue, which oversees the PA Lottery, to create “a lawful iLottery program.” If there is no movement by July 3, the casinos said they will “consider all actions” available to them, aka taking further legal action.

On top of the other complaints listed in the letter, the buy-in fee for casinos to offer a similar lineup of online games could also be in play.

Consider that in the same 2017 law, licensed casinos can get in on the action to offer PA online casinos after paying a $10 million licensing fee. So far, however, not one of the state’s 13 casinos have applied, to Online Poker Report‘s knowledge.

A spokesman from the Revenue Department said the agency is reviewing the letter and expects to comment about it at a later time.

- Grant Lucas is a longtime sportswriter who has covered the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant has covered games and written features and columns surrounding prep sports, Linfield, and Oregon State athletics and the Portland Trail Blazers throughout his career.
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