An arcade offering video games of skill could open on New Castle's North Hill by February.
The New Castle Planning Commission, by a 3-2 vote, recommended approving a conditional use request by Pennsylvania Skill Games LLC of Aliquippa to operate an arcade at 717 Wilmington Ave.
The planning commission is an advisory board. New Castle City Council, which will ultimately grant or deny the request, must schedule a public hearing to allow comments from the community before voting on the recommendation.
Albert Unis of Pennsylvania Skill Games said the devices to be offered meet the definition of games of skill as approved by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
"These will not be games of chance, which are illegal in Pennsylvania," Unis said. "We came to the planning commission to explain what we are doing. People like to associate us with casino games, but these are not casino games, which are based on luck. These are games of skill."
Unis said he believes this will be the first arcade of its kind in western Pennsylvania.
"It will be a welcoming environment, well lit and not dark like early arcades," he said, adding, "Clientele will be age 21 and up."
Unis said his units will offer interactive, touch-screen puzzles and games like Tic-Tac-Toe and Angry Birds, similar to what people can now play on their phones.
"We'll give them the opportunity to show their skillfulness and to win money," he said. Players will have the opportunity to purchase points to play the computer games. Skillful players, he said, will rack up more credits than he or she put into the device, which can be redeemed for cash and prizes.
The establishment, Unis said, also will offer refreshments to its patrons.
"We'll have appetizers and drinks for the customers," he said. "We will not have a liquor license."
He anticipates operating from 9 a.m. to midnight daily, "depending on the crowd we can draw." The business also will offer five jobs to start.
He said New Castle was selected "because it seemed like a good place. It has good population numbers, the building has plenty of parking and Rosewoods Plaza, where we plan to locate, has a lot of room for expansion."
About two years ago, he said, games placed by his company were seized in a raid.
"We went to court, contending that our games are legal," he said. "We won a judgement in Beaver County confirming that our games are games of skill — not games of chance — and did not violate Pennsylvania law, and got our machines back."
He said a similar case was won in Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has since ruled on the issue.
Unis said the proposed skill games arcade — which does not yet have a name — represents a growing market.
"These will not be old-style arcade games of the past," he said. "A lot of young people play computer video games and they're quite good at it. This will give them a place to play."
He said a lot of work must be done on the building before the arcade will be ready to open. Even if city council acts promptly to hold a public hearing and vote to approve the conditional use request, "the earliest we could open will be late February," he said.
In 2014, the Common Pleas Court in Beaver County ruled the device in question was a game of skill, not a game of chance and therefore did not violate Pennsylvania law