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Former U.S. Rep. Tom Marino takes aim at ‘illegal games,’ announces lawsuit against Boalsburg bar

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With the Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries both pushing jackpots of more than $300 million, we asked what a few people in downtown Columbus what they would do if they won the grand prize.

A company that manufactures gaming machines in Williamsport announced its intentions Thursday to file a lawsuit that accuses The Bar of operating illegal gambling machines inside the bottle shop.

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, who now works as a vice president of government affairs for games of skill operator Pace-O-Matic, said the eight machines at the Boalsburg pub are not taxed and not contributing to the state’s economy.

“It’s the operators and the distributors and the bar owners like we have here who are getting together and putting these illegal games out there,” Marino said Thursday outside The Bar. “It has to stop.”

The Bar had “no comment” on the lawsuit or Marino’s statements.

Marino, who resigned from his post in the U.S. House of Representatives just weeks into his new term, espoused Pace-O-Matic’s machines and their legal status, citing a 2014 Beaver County court decision that found the machines require a level of skill. He also said he has lobbied state legislators to regulate the industry.

Pace-O-Matic’s Pennsylvania Skill machines require players to change a character to match three-in-a-row on a tic-tac-toe board or recall the order of certain patterns, among other mini-games. Therein lies the difference between Pennsylvania Skill machines and traditional slot machines, Pennsylvania Skill spokesperson Mike Barley said.

“We want rules; we want regulation; we want enforcement,” Marino said. “We want people arrested and prosecuted who still continue to operate these illegal games. They know we’re out there. We’re gonna continue to do this.”

Marino and Barley made the announcement one day after making a similar proclamation at a Cambria County location. The campaign will continue, Marino said, because “bad actors” are giving the industry a bad name.

Those alleged “bad actors” may change depending on how you look at it.

The Pennsylvania Lottery in June estimated it lost $138 million in sales this year to Pennsylvania Skill machines because they are often available at the same locations.

“These illegal machines are creating a huge risk for the older Pennsylvanians who rely upon the programs the Lottery funds,” Pennsylvania Lottery Executive Director Drew Svitko said in a statement. “The games of skill machines are appearing across the state and we are deeply concerned the harm will only increase.”

State Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, R-Bucks County, introduced legislation in June to strengthen penalties against illegal games of skill. The proposal includes tiered penalties, with a third offense constituting a felony charge and at least a $15,000 fine per violation.

The legislation is supported by the state police bureau of liquor control enforcement, which has primary enforcement authority over licensed liquor establishments.

“We continue to see an increase of suspected illegal gambling devices within licensed liquor establishments, but perhaps even more concerning is the illegal gambling happening in convenience stores, strip malls, and shopping centers,” state police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement Director Scott Miller said in a statement. “This bill provides clear guidelines to aid in voluntary compliance by business owners, club officers and vending distributors, as well as enhanced penalties for those who violate the law.”

Pace-O-Matic is willing to pay “a fair tax” on their devices, some of which the company wants to go to law enforcement, Marino said. The company is taking steps to be “above reproach” because it understands the scrutiny, Barley said.

“We’re the leader in this and we’re doing all the work, but that’s fine,” Marino said. “When other businesses get in legitimately, it’s going to create more jobs. We are opening up our business across the United States and it’s taking off fast. We’re thrilled to work with law enforcement on this.”

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.

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