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Skill machines turned off as pandemic wears on

HUGHESVILLE — At the Fuel On station and store on Main Street here, the clerk says the games of skill are unplugged until further notice.

“My boss told me to turn them off,” said the store employee.

Players — and store owners who generate money from the skill games — are going to have to wait until the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

“Additionally, all of the video gaming terminals (VGTs) at 25 truck stops throughout the state are remaining unplugged and non-operational during the emergency declaration to stop the slow of coronavirus,” said Doug Harbach, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

“Also any land-based casinos are closed,” Harbach said.

The 25 stores throughout the state with video gaming terminals are allowed a maximum of five games, so the losses hit hard, Harbach said.

Harbach added that stores with skill game machines that do not meet the criteria for Gaming Control Board oversight – including games found in stores and businesses in Lycoming County – are turning off those machines due to recommendations from state trade associations and the state Department of Health.

The shutdowns are part of the statewide mitigation efforts requested by the state Department of Health and Gov. Tom Wolf to slow the spread of coronavirus, Harbach said.

“We don’t know when the emergency will be lifted,” Harbach said of the federal guideline of April 30 imposed by President Donald Trump.

“When we do, we may have to have continued mitigation measures in place,” Harbach said, describing such efforts as possibly having store employees wipe down the machines with disinfectant that kills the virus.

The virus remains alive for several hours to days on hard surfaces, but there is no specific timeline, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It does not stay as long airborne, the agency based in Atlanta, Georgia, said.

The machines take players’ money and have them try to match items in a row, similar to tic tac toe. If successful, the machines pay out $5, $10, $500 or even $1,000 depending on the screen.

Since the emergency, the state Amusement Music Machine Association called on operators to cease servicing the machines, as laborers could spread contagion left on the surface. Many of the association members stopped operations and servicing their machines, said Del Guerrini, association president.

It remains a financial burden for operators but was needed to promote health and safety, he said.

The operators of the machines own, operate and service the machines, he said.

They are in bars, clubs and convenience stores.

The association is a non-profit trade association and fully supported turning off all of the machines, Guerrini said.

Pace-O-Matic owns the rights to the machines’ software. However, the machines used in the state are built in Williamsport at Miele Manufacturing, which is the distributor, Guerrini said.

Miele put out a statement and was also fully behind turning off the machines.

“They wanted to do their part in following Centers for Disease Control requirements and social distancing,” Guerrini said.

“We are about 95 percent in compliance,” he said.

That puts in question touchable machines that remain on and can contaminate just as much, Guerrini said.

At numerous locations a number have state Lottery machines, he said.

“We asked, ‘If we have to turn those off, why can we run the lottery?’ … We think we need to do what we think conforms to the CDC. It is that the long-term health of the community is more important than a short-term loss of revenue,” Guerrini said.

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