There are now more than 20 states that have laws that limit the maximum value of a prize that can be won per play from a redemption or merchandise dispensing game. The limits vary from 75 cents/play in Florida to $5 in Georgia to $10 in Ohio and so on to $35. The domino effect appears to be continuing as at least three states are currently considering adopting maximum prize per play limits, such as California with a proposed $10 maximum prize limit.
These laws have been brought about as an “easy fix” for those states desiring to shut down video gaming (adult arcades) and sweepstakes games, but the legislative web has unintentionally entangled much of the legitimate amusement game industry. These laws adversely affect amusement parks, family entertainment centers, carnivals, bowling and skating centers and also those companies that manufacture amusement games and supply prizes, tickets, tokens, debit card systems, bill changers, ticket centers and many other products and services.
Our industry obviously has a huge public relations problem. Why is it that most state legislators don’t understand that the amusement game industry is different from the gambling industry? The legal gambling industry has done an excellent job of erasing any line in the sand and adding to the confusion by calling itself the gaming industry. Could it be that the amusement industry has not drawn a clear and deeper line in the sand between the two industries? Perhaps the reason is that some in the amusement industry feel that the proper response is to continue to keep our heads in the sand and do nothing because many of the new laws are not being strictly enforced? This is not a solution, as these state laws still hang over the industry and any local sheriff or police chief can choose to grab the headlines and go after a violation.
The good news is that the amusement industry is now starting to take a proactive approach. Several AMOA state associations have hired lobbyists to educate the legislators on this issue and propose law changes to existing laws and amendments to proposed laws. California now has a new AMOA state association that was formed to address a proposed $10 prize limit law. AAMA has initiated a legal defense fund. Manufacturers of merchandise dispensing games are making sure their games are certified as skill based and comply with the laws of each state, offering special adaptations for a specific state when required.
All of these actions are good and necessary but do not take on the big picture that this is a public relations issue. It is a simple fact that individuals and families enjoy playing amusement games. They love winning tickets and redeeming prizes and winning prizes. It is a tradition. Our industry is well positioned to get this word out to the local and national media. Disney owns ABC. Comcast owns Universal Studios (Wet n Wild, Orlando), NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC business network. Time Warner got out of the amusement park business several years ago but still licenses characters (i.e. Warner Brothers) to several amusement parks and owns CNN and Time Magazine. CBS Viacom also previously owned amusement parks. These are the entities who are in the best positions to help our industry.
On the local level, FECs and amusement parks should be discussing the subject in newspapers and on television and radio. AMOA, AAMA and IAAPA can write articles and even white papers on the subject. Disney could assist in the key states of Florida and California to lobby legislators to raise prize limits to at least a few hundred dollars so the public has the chance to win the electronic gadgets that they so desire. Florida is a key state. If the law is amended, it would have a positive effect on other states.
The public relations battle is never ending, but one that is worth fighting. Be assured that the sweepstakes and video poker/slot machine groups will continue to fight for legalization of their market on a state by state basis. Our job is to make sure that the amusement game industry is associated with skill based games and not gambling machines. It is this distinction that is necessary for our industry to survive. –
(Scott C. Borowsky is president and executive editor of Tourist Attractions & Parks magazine and Frank Seninsky is president and CEO of Amusement Entertainment Management.)