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Free Ball! Extra Credit! New Law Extends Play On New York's Amusement Machines

Posted On: 3/28/2011

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Amusement and Music Owners Association of New York, Bill Schnell, Cary Kessler, Ken Goldberg, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Andrew Cuomo, S. 2476, A. 2982, coin-operated amusement device, coin-op news, coin machine operator, vending machine operator, amusement game, free games, free ball, pinball machine, juke box operator, New York gaming laws, New York penal law, Skill with Prize, SWP

ALBANY, NY -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed into law a measure that allows coin-operated amusement games to award extra balls, free games or additional time. The "extended-play" bill, as the New York coin machine trade calls it, clarifies the definition of gambling in the context of coin-op amusement devices. It basically says "extras" on amusement devices do not constitute "something of value" in the same way they do in a gambling device.

The governor had until midnight, March 26, to sign the bill, and reportedly did on the final day.

The Amusement and Music Owners Association of New York began a campaign for extended-play rights almost three years ago. The association's legal counsel, Cary Kessler, and government affairs expert, Bill Schnell, spearheaded the effort, which hit a roadblock two years ago. An earlier version of the bill, which had passed New York's House and Senate almost unanimously, was vetoed by Gov. David Paterson in September 2008. | SEE STORY

Paterson's veto, people close to the matter later learned, was recommended by antigambling forces within the New York State Police. The governor suggested in his veto statement that bonus balls or time on pinball machines or videogames might threaten the public's safety. However, legal advisors to the trade association, state police and governor were able to adjust the wording of the bill to make it more palatable to law enforcement.

The wording of the law states:

"A machine which awards free or extended play is not a gambling device merely because such free or extended play may constitute something of value provided that the outcome depends upon the skill of the player and not in a material degree upon an element of chance."

The bill, designated S. 2476 in the Senate and A. 2982 in the House, was introduced by state Sen. John Flanagan and state Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D-Brooklyn). It amended a 23-year-old penal law that made it a criminal act to operate pinball machines that awarded free balls or videogames which extend time, based on players' performances. In 1987, New York enacted that legislation to curtail gambling, but the law failed to make the distinction between coin-op amusements, which do not dispense money or coupons, and wagering devices.

AMOA-NY president Ken Goldberg of PLK Vending (Woodside, NY) said amusement operators have endured financial losses and missed opportunities over the past two decades because the old law prohibited the sales and operation of certain types of amusement games that are permitted in most other states. "Now we can offer our customers expanded game features and better value," Goldberg said. The amended law, which does distinguish coin-op amusements from gambling devices, might also pave a clear and legal path to new types of amusement and skill games, Goldberg added, referring to "skill with prize" (SWP) systems that run tournaments and award cash prizes.

Gov. Cuomo's signing of the extended-play bill is the second major victory for AMOA-NY in the past year. In late 2009, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law an amended bill that raised the number of coin-op games that can be placed in New York City's public locations without an arcade license. The law, which increased the threshold of game placements from four to nine in a single site, went into effect on March 28, 2010. | SEE STORY

However, the extended-play bill, Goldberg pointed out, is a victory for operators in every New York State market.