But with the right rules in place, amusement games can help small businesses while keeping the public safe from a slot-machine invasion.
THE Washington State Gambling Commission should adopt rules bringing tighter control over Group 12 amusement games, not prohibit them.
The commission meets Thursday to consider new rules or whether to repeal its July 2015 authorization of games in which “the outcome depends to a material degree on the skill of the player.”
As Susan Newer, spokeswoman for the gambling commission, puts it: “You have to use your noodle.”
But not much mental pasta is required to play. The machines look and act like slot machines: put in money, push a button, the barrels roll and, if the stars align, you win.
Slot machines are prohibited by the state, and amusement games, despite their appearance, have a couple of distinctions from slots. A player can push another button to see if he or she will win a prize. The player has some control over the barrels — he or she can “nudge” them up or down.
The commission already adopted some rules to control these games. They are restricted to 21-and-over areas. They must have a state $250 identification stamp and must be tested by the state gambling lab. And the price to play is limited to $5, and the prize value cannot exceed $1,000.
The ruckus raised over the games is because of reported instances of cash being paid out to game winners. The commission should adopt the proposed rules that would prohibit cash payouts and restrict prizes to on-site merchandise, food and beverages.
Players should be able to use game winnings to buy into other gaming devices (pull tabs, bingo), and they should be able to use credits to continue playing.
The commission should also adopt proposed limits on the number of games in one establishment: 20 for charitable or nonprofit licensees and 10 games for commercial licenses. An overall state limit should also be considered to prevent the proliferation that has taken place in Georgia: 22,500 games in 5,000 locations, including convenience stores. (Commission staff reported 430 games in operation in Washington state in February.)
The commission must also require business operators to report game receipts. Each game should display a sign noting the merchandise-only prizes.
Legislators — including House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, and House Minority Floor Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm — see the games as an expansion of gambling, want the commission to prohibit them, and threaten legislative action to ban them.
But with the right rules in place, these games could help small businesses — which say they will lose $9 million if the games are prohibited — while keeping the public safe from a slot-machine invasion.