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Issue Date: Vol. 54, No. 6, June 2014, Posted On: 5/13/2014

San Francisco Removes Archaic Game Restrictions, Making It Safe For Coin-Op Viddies And Pinballs

by Hank Schlesinger and Nick Montano
TAGS: arcade game, video game, coin-op game, San Francisco videogame ban, pinball machine restriction, arcade videogame games, Shawn Vergara, Tiffny Vergara Chung, Scott Wiener, London Breed, SF Police Department code, mechanical amusement devices, Project 22 arcade game bar, Blackbird bar, classic video games, Galaga

SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco is preparing to lift a decades-old restriction on arcade videogame games and pinball machines. Bar owner Shawn Vergara and his sister Tiffny Vergara Chung are among the amusement machine advocates leading a campaign to make the Bay Area more coin-op friendly. They and other advocates have the support of City Supervisors Scott Wiener and London Breed.

Until very recently, San Francisco did not allow more than 10 arcade machines per location, and the exact quantity was tied to a business' square footage -- so the legal number for small locations was only one or two games; a location had to have 4,501 square feet or more to place the maximum 10 games permitted. A 30-year-old SF Police Department code restricted the number of "mechanical amusement devices" allowed for the square footage.

Wiener announced on his Twitter account on April 22 that the Board of Supervisors passed the legislation introduced by him and Breed, "making SF safe for arcade games." The approval is provisional, but likely to become law.

Vergara, owner of the Blackbird bar in San Francisco's Castro district, is opening a second venue -- an arcade bar -- close to his current business. The bar, dubbed Project 22, will boast a wide selection of beers, industrial d├ęcor and classic videogames like Pac-Man, Joust, Donkey Kong, Street Fighter and Galaga, as well as pinball machines. Plans for Project 22 call for 2,000 square feet in a space on 2200 Market St. that will accommodate 20-plus games.

Shawn Vergara, Blackbird bar, coin-op, San Francisco game law
PHOTO: Bar owner Shawn Vergara and his business manager and sister, Tiffny Vergara Chung, are among the amusement machine advocates leading a campaign to make the Bay Area more coin-op friendly.

If games like Galaga provide a bittersweet dose of nostalgia, so do the laws that saw them banned from some communities. Hastily enacted in the 1980s at the height of the videogame boom, antiquated anti-amusement legislation still on the books recalls a simpler time. Parents worried that arcades would promote truancy and other antisocial behaviors among teens, so city politicians quickly voted in the laws that amounted to coin-op prohibition. An outright ban dating back to 1982 in Marshfield, MA, for example, was just overturned. | SEE STORY

Today, in the smartphone era, of all times, an increasing number of bars are plugging in classic videos for nostalgia appeal, and locations and vending operators in communities where laws still restrict arcade games are testing and fighting those laws. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2010 signed into law an amended bill that raised the number of coin-op games that can be placed in public locations without an arcade license from four to nine. An arcade license is still required for locating 10 or more games at a single site. | SEE STORY

"We brought it to Scott Wiener's attention," Vergara told Vending Times. "We told him the concept is spreading across the United States and we'd like to bring it to San Francisco. He's gotten behind us."

In San Francisco, use permits for mechanical amusement devices are issued by the city's Entertainment Commission. The initial application costs $744 and the annual permit renewal is $297.

Topic: Music and Games Features

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