David La Torre: Pa. Lottery breaking law with casino-like games
Right now, if you go to pailottery.com, you can sign up to “demo” the Pennsylvania Lottery’s new online casino-like games. That includes your children. Not only is the lottery breaking the law by providing games that are set aside for casinos, but anyone can play the games by simply indicating they’re 18 or older.
Once there, players can make bets and spin the wheel of an electronic slots machine and either win or lose. For a state that requires its casinos to spend millions each year to keep anyone under the age of 21 off their floors, such actions are inexcusable and can nurture gambling habits for children.
It should concern every Pennsylvanian that the Pennsylvania Lottery is flouting the law — and making it easy for children to play casino-like games without any proper age verification or identification. Pennsylvania casinos must follow very stringent regulations on underage gaming or face thousands of dollars in fines, while the lottery is openly marketing its games to anyone as young as 18.
A coalition of Pennsylvania casinos recently filed suit in Commonwealth Court seeking an injunction to stop the Pennsylvania Lottery from providing illegal, simulated casino-style online games. In May, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, which oversees the lottery system, launched “iLottery,” offering games online and on mobile devices.
Despite state law (Act 42 of 2017) making it illegal for the Pennsylvania Lottery to offer and use casino-style games, it launched a series of games that imitate the look, sound and feel of slot machines. Several games — Volcano Eruption Reveal, Robin Hood, Super Gems, Big Foot and Monster Wins — have the same titles and/or themes as slot machines offered on Pennsylvania casino floors. Unlike casino gaming, these illegal casino-style lottery games give the illusion that the player can make decisions, but the winners are predetermined.
Pennsylvania’s casino industry is supportive of the lottery’s mission. Casinos are required by law to provide space for lottery ticket vending machines in their casinos — and are happy to do so. In fact, some casinos have become some of the best-selling outlets of lottery tickets in Pennsylvania.
But that doesn’t make the Pennsylvania Lottery’s actions permissible, and it should offend anyone that its actions clearly flout state law — and does damage to a casino industry that has been an economic engine for Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania casinos have now crossed over
$5 billion in property investments, created more than 18,000 jobs, and spent $230 million annually for goods and services from local businesses.
That remarkable investment has greatly benefitted millions of Pennsylvanians, but the lottery’s actions threaten taxpayers and the municipalities in which they live. In 2016-17 alone, casinos contributed $2.3 billion in slots tax revenue and an additional $132 million in local share funding for host communities to use for countless local projects that are being done with little or no local taxes.
David La Torre, who writes from Harrisburg, represents
a coalition of Pennsylvania casinos.