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California's New Policy On Redemption Legality Remains Unclear

Posted On: 11/9/2010

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redemption games, slot machines, ticket redemption, California AB 1753, Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, California penal law, gambling law, gaming law, coin-op games, coin-op skill games, arcade games, Bob Snyder, Bob Snyder & Associates, pinball, amusement games, videogame, skill crane, prize games, California Bureau of Gambling Control, Wedges Ledges, Steve Shoemaker

SACRAMENTO, CA -- The California Bureau of Gambling Control issued a law enforcement advisory on Nov. 1 that was apparently intended to clarify the distinction between illegal gambling games and legal redemption games. But according to a leading industry expert, the state's policy remains confusing.

"It appears that at the state level, California is still not settled on what are legitimate redemption and merchandising machines," said attorney and consultant Bob Snyder of Bob Snyder and Associates.

The Nov. 1 advisory states that machines are illegal if they award "something of value" based on "any element of hazard or chance." It also notes, however, that games meeting this definition may qualify for exceptions as "pinball" or "amusement" devices.

The emphasis on the word "any" could lead an inexperienced investigator to be ready to conclude that all redemption is prohibited and illegal, Snyder said.

The advisory goes on to say that a machine is legal if it is "predominately a game of skill" and awards only free replays. The document claims that any coin pusher is de facto illegal.

The advisory appears to contradict various opinion letters issued during the 1980s and 1990s by city and state officials in California to manufacturers of certain cranes, pushers and redemption games, stating that their devices are legal amusement machines.

The advisory also appears to contradict pro-crane court verdicts and rulings in cases fought by Wedges/Ledges president Steve Shoemaker, among others. These cases were widely reported in the amusement industry trade press at the time.

The Nov. 1 advisory included a flow chart that acknowledged certain elements of a game can establish a predominance of skill or chance, but Snyder said the chart contained only "passing reference" to these criteria.

The gambling control bureau said that it has obtained copies of fraudulent letters that purport to be official advisories from the state attorney general's office or from the bureau itself, asserting the legality of coin pushers or redemption machines. The fraudulent letters, reproduced in the advisory itself, were not the legitimate 1980s and '90s opinion letters and verdicts referred to earlier in this story.

Snyder noted that the gambling bureau is likely shake up its staff now that California Attorney General Jerry Brown has been elected governor. In theory, a new bureau director could change or further clarify the state's policy.

In April and May this year, Snyder intervened with Los Angeles sheriffs to secure their support for amended language to AB 1753, a state bill that was intended to outlaw slot machines that masqueraded as skill games or amusement devices. The bill's original language was so broad that industry members feared it could effectively ban all redemption and merchandising games. Read the full story.

The amended bill passed the state Assembly and Senate in May and August, respectively, and became law on Sept. 30.