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US – Calls for immediate shutdown of ‘games of skill’ in Pennsylvania

By - 22 March 2020

An advocacy group battling against the explosion of illegal gambling across Pennsylvania is calling for an immediate shutdown of so-called ‘games of skill’ due to public health concerns related to spread of Coronavirus.

The unregulated and illegal machines, which have proliferated in gas stations, corner stores, restaurants, clubs and bars throughout Pennsylvania, pose risk as conduits of the Coronavirus. The National Institutes of Health this week released a study that found that virus that causes coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is stable for several hours to days on surfaces. The scientists found that the virus survives for up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

“At a time in which Pennsylvania casinos have made the difficult but appropriate decision to shut down to protect the health of their patrons, employees, and the public, these machines continue to attract gamblers of all ages,” said Peter Shelly, spokesperson for Pennsylvanians Against Illegal Gambling (PAIG). “You don’t have to be a health expert to know that the extended period of times in which players interact with these machines could accelerate the spread of Coronavirus to some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

PAIG is calling on the Pennsylvania Department of Health as well as county health departments throughout the Commonwealth to order business owners to immediately shut down any machines operating in their establishments.

While Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered the closure of non-essential businesses, many of these machines exist in businesses that remain open because they offer essential products and services. Mr. Shelly noted that the Governor’s order (issued on March 19) mandates that “Amusement, Gambling, and Recreation Industries” must close.

Shelly emphasised that the emerging threat underscores the risks associated with unregulated gambling, which likely is being magnified by gamblers having fewer options amid the crisis.

The estimated 20,000 illegal machines operating in Pennsylvania divert revenues from the Pennsylvania Lottery that provide vital programs for older Pennsylvanians as well as casino revenues, a portion of which is distributed to counties for public improvement projects and programs.

Lottery officials recently testified that the machines could divert $200 million in funding this year for senior centers, low-cost prescription drugs, and programs such as Meals on Wheels. Lottery officials estimate that for every games of skill machine placed in a Lottery retailer, the Lottery loses approximately $2,284 per machine per month.

“With casinos shuttered and Pennsylvanians making the wise choice to stay at home we are already facing a perfect-storm scenario that will negatively impact revenues available to help older Pennsylvanians and our communities,” Mr. Shelly said. “The continued operation of these machines pose enormous risks to the short-term health of Pennsylvanians and the long-term health and stability of the entire Commonwealth.”

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