NEW YORK CITY — Operators in New York City are no longer behind the 8-ball. On July 3, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law a measure enacted by the City Council that increases the number of pool tables that can be installed in a location before it must apply for a billiard room license if more than one table were placed in an establishment.
The earlier statute had been passed nearly a century ago, when there were many pool halls in large cities. Since coin-operated pool tables had not yet been invented, the law did not make provision for tables installed and operated by a contractor in an establishment primarily engaged in selling other services or products. When coin-op tables made their appearance, the relic law thus applied to taverns and other places of public resort in which operators were placing pool tables.
The new law permits a location to have two pool tables without applying for the city’s “pocket billiard” room license. While the licensing fee is modest – $340 every two years for the first table, plus $40 for each additional table – it comes with a long list of prohibitions and zoning regulations. By changing the two-table threshold for a billiard license to three, the law allows operators to meet the demand for multiple tables without the bureaucratic red tape.
In late May, the City Council’s Consumer Affairs Committee, chaired by Leroy G. Comrie Jr., held a public hearing to explore amending the outdated code that administered pocket billiard rooms. Invited to speak were officials from the Department of Consumer Affairs, billiard room owners and industry advocates, who included members of Amusement and Music Owners Association of New York.
According to AMOA-NY’s legal representative, Cary Kessler, there were no clear guidelines under the old law to identify a billiard room; the code simply defined any room or place in the city in which billiards are played as a “pocket billiard room.” “As a result,” Kessler said, “the Department of Consumer Affairs traditionally interpreted ‘tables’ as a simple plural: two tables.”
Billiard room and small business advocates alike have argued that many locations have more than one table but do not act as establishments whose primary trade is selling time to play pool, as the law’s real intention. “Adding this form of licensure to the many other necessities required of small business, particularly those offering patrons the opportunity to play pool as incidental to their main trade, is an unnecessary imposition,” the AMOA-NY official said.
Kessler was part of the AMOA-NY contingent speaking at the public hearing. He was joined by the association’s president, Frank Calland, E&S Music (Holbrook, NY), and board member Allen Weisberg, Apple Amusements (Bronx, NY).
An operator of jukeboxes and amusement machines, Weisberg described to the committee how the coin-op trade provides a valuable service to thousands of small businesses throughout the city’s five boroughs. He also owns a 32-table billiards room in the Bronx.
The operator’s testimony was challenged by one committee member who contended that pool tables were instruments for gambling. Weisberg said he never personally witnessed gambling at any of pool table locations or in his own billiard room.
An unconvinced councilman, John Liu (D-Queens), told Weisberg his statement was “hard to believe” and invited the operator to visit his Flushing, NY, district. Weisberg accepted, but Liu has yet to set a date.
Prior to Liu’s tangent, the Bronx operator urged the Consumer Affairs Committee to drop the requirements entirely for coin-op pool.
Separately, AMOA-NY has asked the New York City Council to explore increasing the number of coin-op amusement machines allowed in any given location without applying for an arcade license. The current law allows placement of up to four games without the licensing requirement. However, the consumer affairs department does not include pool tables in its count under the amusement arcade law. Therefore, vendors can now operate up to four videogames, for example, along with two pool tables in a single location.
New York City defines an amusement game as a “player-operated amusement device,” replacing the term “coin-operated amusement device” (COAD). The council changed the name two years ago to better reflect the attributes of new electronic games and their components. AMOA-NY said it expects the council to hold hearings on raising the number of allowable POADs from four to 10 in the near future.