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Middletown ‘skill games’ ban tabled by council after heavy opposition

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 1/8/20

Middletown Borough Council Monday night voted 6-0 to table acting on a proposal that would ban so-called “skill games” in the borough, following objections raised by businesses and …

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Middletown ‘skill games’ ban tabled by council after heavy opposition

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Middletown Borough Council Monday night voted 6-0 to table acting on a proposal that would ban so-called “skill games” in the borough, following objections raised by businesses and nonprofit groups in town that are already benefitting from the gambling devices.

“If you do somehow make this happen, we will probably be one of the most hated boroughs around the area, but people gamble. If they don’t come here … they will just go somewhere else and do it,” said American Legion Post 594 Commander William Douglass, who told council that skill games have increased by 60 percent the amount of money the post is able to donate to area schools and veterans organizations.

The skill games resemble slot machines. According to PennLive, a Nov. 20 Commonwealth Court decision dismissed a state Department of Revenue argument that the machines in question are in fact slot machines, improperly operating without licenses from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.  Pennsylvania State Police seized the gaming devices from five bars in Dauphin and Cumberland counties in mid-December, PennLive reported.

Bill Reigle, representing the Rescue Firemens Home Association, said getting rid of the two skill games the association now has would decrease by 70 percent the amount of money the association has available to donate to the Middletown Volunteer Fire Department and to charitable organizations.

“We have gone from struggling each month to reinvesting in our community,” he told council.

Thanks to revenue from the skill games, Reigle said the association was able to contribute $7,500 to the fire company in 2017, followed by $10,000 in 2018 and $15,000 to the company in 2019.

“Those contributions help cover training expenses for new volunteer firefighters and help to purchase and repair equipment,” he said. “These donations can literally make the difference between our department having the tools we need to save lives and property.”

Ed Gelata, representing the Middletown Moose, said that banning the skill games would reduce the amount of money the Moose has available to donate to the borough police department and other organizations, as well as possibly threaten the existence of the Moose itself.

“If we lose this we might not be in business six months from now,” Gelata said. “Whoever proposed this — shame on them.”

Just a handful of speakers spoke before council urging that council scrap consideration of the ordinance. However, just about every seat in the audience in council chambers was filled with other people also opposed to the ordinance, who left pleased when council decided to table further action on the proposal at the urging of President Angela Lloyd.

“Thanks to all of you for coming out,” Lloyd said. “In light of the turnout and the need for more information, I would like to table (the ordinance) until further notice.”

Mayor James H. Curry III weighed in as well, pledging that if council were to pass an ordinance banning the skill games, he would veto it.

The item was on the meeting’s agenda for council consideration to advertise the proposed ordinance.

Council would have had to take a second vote at a later meeting to make the ordinance law.

The only councilor who did not vote to table was Vice President Ian Reddinger, who after the meeting told the Press & Journal he abstained because he is a member of VFW Post 1620. Reddinger said he was concerned that voting either way would be a conflict of interest.

The item was placed on the Jan. 6 agenda for consideration  after the borough received a letter urging action from solicitors representing the Dauphin County Gaming Board, Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter told the Press & Journal after the meeting.

The letter expressed concern that revenue from the skill games would reduce the amount of gambling revenue that comes into the Hollywood Casino at Penn National.

The county relies on that revenue to fund gaming grants to municipalities throughout Dauphin County, including Middletown — which earlier this year received a $125,000 gaming grant through the county to help pay for a new pumper truck for the fire company.

“It seemed to make sense,” Klinepeter said, referring to council’s initial reaction to the letter. However, he acknowledged that neither he, nor presumably the council, knew that these skill games were already in use by organizations and businesses in the borough.

Nor were borough officials aware of how much revenue these entities in town were already receiving as a result of the skill games, Klinepeter added.

The borough had already heard opposition to the proposed ban “from a bunch of folks” even before Monday’s meeting, Klinepeter said.

“Maybe we need to take a step back and wait until more information comes out, maybe let the state or county take the lead on it and not blaze that trail on our own,” he said after the meeting. “We didn’t have the other side of the story. I’m glad the people did contact us and come out, because we had no clue.”