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California Pusher Verdict Sets Important Precedent

Posted On: 5/6/2011

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Los Angeles County Superior Court, pusher games, coin pusher, coin game, coin machine, redemption game, skill game, coin-op game, slot machine, California gambling law, Delano CA, Visa CA, Bob Snyder, El Monte CA, Jerry Pillen, amusement business, arcade game

EL MONTE, CA -- A jury in a Los Angeles County Superior Court unanimously found a coin-operated -- "quarters in, quarters out" -- pusher game to be an illegal gambling device after a one-week trial here, reported Bob Snyder, an attorney and coin machine expert.

After the verdict, rendered on April 14, several defendants in pending cases that deal with similar machines reportedly changed their pleas to guilty. Earlier pusher cases this year have seen local California police seize pusher games in the cities of Delano and Visa. | SEE STORY

Jerry Pillen, a detective in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, brought the El Monte case against an operator who had placed the pushers in local retail businesses, said Snyder. Judge Gilbert M. Lopez presided over the case (designated #0RI02477).

The pusher at issue was a single-player unit, about 5-ft. tall, with a horizontal moveable coin entry slot near the top of the cabinet. A button marked "skill stop" could pause the upper tier pusher at the player's command. A quarter inserted travels a vertical drop behind a Plexiglas back wall, landing on the upper tier's moving pusher mechanism to intermingle with other quarters. From there, quarters ultimately traverse several inches over a raised lip and fall onto the lower main playfield to again intermingle with layers of quarters awaiting to be pushed by the forces of newly inserted coins traveling several more inches, avoiding or entering two concealed house openings and slots. The quarters that avoided the openings continue to gradually be pushed and eventually go over a 45° metal lip, where they fall for return to a player.

Testing revealed operator profit of about 27% or more of the playfield's moving quarters. As a prize inducement, rolls of quarters wrapped with $5 and $20 bills were placed near the front lip of the lower tier. 

The Deputy District Attorney who prosecuted called three witnesses. The store location owner testified as to the split of revenue agreement with the route operator. Also testifying were a former employee of the operator and Detective Pillen, who is also knowledgeable about pusher games. Witnesses for the operator included a mechanical engineer.

California law does not prohibit awarding cash per se. But the machine, when coupled with the pusher at issue, was serving as an illegal slot device, in the opinion of the jury.

According to the detective, the trial was significant as California law enforcement officers voiced frustration and concern at the influx of reported "for amusement" machines displaying prizes of hard currency. This includes cranes with $100 bills and pushers with rolls of coins and banknotes among the quarters.

Acting on an invitation from law enforcement, Snyder in 2010 had provided three days of training to select law enforcement officials; the Deputy DA and detective involved in the pusher case were among them. Snyder's workshop focused on how to conduct impartial forensic examination of game machines, including analysis of machine characteristics and skill and chance factors. The techniques taught by Snyder were reportedly used in the coin pusher examination and El Monte case preparation.