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Persistence Pays Off For Maryland Operators Who Delay Potentially Harmful Legislation Against Skill Games

Posted On: 12/18/2013

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TAGS: MAMOA legislative success, Senate Bill 864, Maryland gaming law, coin machine industry, skill amusements, redemption games, Maryland Amusement and Music Operators Association, Larry Bershtein, Capitol Amusement Co., coin-op news, Kevin O'Keeffe, Meringer Zois & Quigg LLC

BALTIMORE -- Score one for the good guys. The Maryland Amusement and Music Operators Association said it has stopped state legislation from moving forward that could have severely restricted the operation of skill games. On Dec. 18, more than 20 amusement industry members attended a meeting of the state's Lottery Commission in Baltimore in a successful effort to explain how the coin-op industry could become a victim of vaguely worded regulations.

"After almost two years of attending commission meetings, we faced a point of potential disaster then succeeded in stopping harmful regulations from moving forward," said MAMOA president Larry Bershtein of Capitol Amusement Co. Inc. (Laurel, MD). "That buys the industry time to work with both the legislative and regulatory sides to find a satisfactory solution."

At issue is Senate Bill 864, passed during the 2012 legislative session, which required the State Lottery and Gaming Commission to create new regulations for electronic gaming devices, as well as any "skills-based amusement device that awards prizes of minimal value approved by the Lottery Commission through regulation." The regulatory legislation proved vague and subject to multiple interpretations, and could have unintentionally and negatively impacted any skill game operating in the state of Maryland.

Gov. Martin O'Malley signed the bill on May 22, 2012. Among many other things, the bill legalized electronic bingo and clarified slot machine regulations. But it also charges the State Lottery and Gaming Commission to draw up regulations concerning various kinds of amusement equipment. | SEE STORY

"The main issues were the $10 limit on prizes from skill-based amusement games and the definition of skill-based amusement games showing 75% or more skill," Bershtein explained. "We were told by officials that the determination of 'skill-based' would be very complex and very expensive."

Bershtein credits Kevin O'Keeffe, MAMOA's director of government relations, from Baltimore-based Meringer, Zois & Quigg LLC, for leading the association's victory. "He worked to make sure the lottery people knew they were heading in the wrong direction," Bershtein said. "There isn't a state association that does not need someone like him."

MOMOA's government affairs effort focuses on education, not confrontation. "Our job is to enlighten legislators about how our industry works, and how some laws and policies could potentially put small businesses out of business," he explained. "That's how we've approached it from day one. We're there to educate, discuss and be part of the process. I've had the utmost respect for the people we've dealt with; even when we did not see eye to eye we were able to sit down and have substantive conversations about the issues."

The campaign was a long process, requiring participation in and monitoring of monthly meetings over 21 months. "Woody Allen said, 'Eighty percent of success in life is showing up,'" Bershtein said. "What I've learned is the other 20% is to show up again and again and again."

A relatively new state association, MOMOA was established by a coalition of Maryland operators and distributors in early 2008 to defend the legitimate redemption market. A statewide ban on previously legal electronic bingo machines took effect on July 1, 2008, and at the same time some lawmakers were targeting gray-area games throughout the state. The new Maryland association sought to educate lawmakers about the industry to prevent prize-vending equipment from becoming illegal in any antigambling legislation. Additionally, Maryland levies some of the heaviest taxes and fees on amusement equipment.