State takes aim at illegal 'coin pusher' machines - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

State takes aim at illegal 'coin pusher' machines

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Posted: Thursday, June 17, 2010 10:58 am | Updated: 7:53 pm, Fri Jun 18, 2010.

Some Arizona businesses looking for extra profits have found themselves on the wrong side of state gaming laws.

And their customers hoping for a win may have been cheated to boot.

The Arizona Department of Gaming has seized dozens of “coin pusher” machines located in bars, convenience stores and other stops. Mark Brnovich said while the ones confiscated so far are in Maricopa County, there is evidence the devices are in shops throughout the state.

And they are there illegally.

The names of the shop owners were not released. Brnovich said it is possible they were duped.

“What we think is happening is someone is basically going around and pitching these to store owners, convenience store owners, bar owners, small shops, telling them there’s no problem, they’re legal,” he said. “The store owners are taking the person’s word on it and installing them and using them to make a profit.”

That, said Brnovich, is not true.

He said state law does allow for amusement devices, even those where people can — but are not guaranteed to — win something. Brnovich called that the Chuck E. Cheese exception, referring to the chain of pizza outlets that caters to families with various games that let customers win small prizes.

But Brnovich said this is quite different from putting a quarter in a machine in hopes of clawing a stuffed animal.

These machines operate by a coin starting a “pusher” which shoves the coins in the machine, including the one just inserted. At some theoretical point, the new coin adds just enough so that a volley of coins at the front end fall into a hopper to be retrieved by the player.

Brnovich said state law makes any machine which awards cash illegal. And he said merchandise prizes can’t be worth more than $4.

Beyond that, Brnovich said state law makes the setting of a machine crucial to the question of its legality.

He said a device set up in an “amusement setting,” like a pizza parlor for families, has prizes “that are not offered to lure or separate players from their money.” That, said Brnovich, is different from something set up at a bar.

In any event, though, the fact that the pushers offer cash make them off limits no matter where they are located.

Brnovich said that, in the case of many of the machines, it’s not even like the customers got a fair shake.

“It appears that these devices were not only illegal, but that many patrons didn’t even have a chance to win the prizes that were offered,” he said.

The Attorney General’s Office said that the machines actually cheat customers because they have hidden compartments: Some of the coins that fall into the bin never make it to the customer but instead remain in the machine.

“These devices are a fraud on the public,” Attorney General Terry Goddard said in a prepared statement. “They are built cleverly to deceive the player into thinking that coins or other valuables are about to fall into the collection bin as winnings, but players can’t see how they really work.”

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