Sunday, March 30, 2014

Coin In, Coin Out

In the past year, a local convenience store in town installed two quarter-pusher machines. The lure of trading one quarter for a handful is always an attraction; but the real draw is the possibility of pushing over a $20 bill-- or a phone card. I first tried this machine with the intent of winning a $20 bill. I didn’t get it, so I stayed away from the electronic bandit, until I came back yesterday with a strategy- win in the short term, then get out. While waiting for the train, I tried it, getting ahead by $1.25 before setting for a $.50 win. In the evening, I sought to repeat my success. No luck (or “outlet for skill”) on either of the two machines: I was $3.00 in the hole. So I decided that the machines were rigged for the house, and I would stay away from those quarter-pushers- unless I was the “house”. But what states allow these quarter-pushers, anyway? On many issues, from raw milk, to first-cousin marriage, to lane-splitting by cyclists, you can find an illustrated map demonstrating state laws. No such map exists for the legality of quarter-pushers (coin-in, coin out). I quickly discovered the reason: the legality of such machines is regulated by states, counties, and down to the town level. At one time, they were prevalent in the resort towns on the Mid-Atlantic shore (Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Coney Island, New York). Laws and enforcement have changes. So have the profit motives: States with casinos were most likely to ban common businesses from operating the machines. As a result, some of the more ‘puritan’ states view it more favorably than the pro-gambling states. In more than one case, I read that, even if you have a vending permit for the machine, you could still be running afoul of state law. What did I discover when trying to make a map of my own? The easiest way to determine legality was by reading news articles regarding confiscations of quarter pushers. News articles were most prevalent in Arizona, California, and West Virginia. In many cases, I discovered that the machines flew under the radar, until the local sheriff’s office received a handful of complaints. Because of the localized nature of these laws, the makers and dealers of these machines do not post information (lest they become liable for a customer’s machine being confiscated); instead, asking customers to do their own research. State/ Legality Kansas- Not legal anymore California- No Florida- Iffy; some local sheriffs consider it a game of chance, not skill. Alabama- Not clear-See Code Section 13A-12-76, Bonafide Coin-Operated Amusement Machines. Ohio- Not clear- See Section 2915.01, Gambling Definitions. Wisconsin- Has tolerated establishments operating up to 5 of these machines. Arizona- No Oregon- No Texas- No, but tolerated by some county Sheriffs. Indiana- No South Dakota- No Tennessee- No Missouri- Contradictory laws Minnesota- No West Virginia- Not anymore North Carolina- No Georgia- See Title 48, Section 48-17-1 Virginia- 1992 decision by State ABC allows machines in bars, equipped with both a skill stop and shooter. Did not find a more up-to-date decision. New York- Not allowed in New York City; operating 1-2 machines does not constitute intent of “advancing unlawful gambling) Penal Code, 228.35 So if our local convenience store happens to be running afoul of Nassau County law, at least they won’t be charged with running a gambling ring. In most cases of enforcement, the penalty is simply confiscation of the machines. And, reading online forums, some owners of the machines are willing to play this cat-and-mouse game. Why? The machines are so darn profitable.

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