Bar and bowling alley owners soon will be allowed to award customers much larger prizes for playing gaming devices that resemble slot machines. The machines spit out coupons which customers redeem for things like free drinks, but current rules, which are in effect ’til July 1st, say customers may redeem only $5 worth of the coupons at a time.
Don Bobenhouse, owner of Bowlerama in Des Moines, says that annoys customers who’ve accumulated a lot of coupons by playing the machines which look and sound a like slot machines.
“If they had, you know, $20 worth of tickets, if they wanted to buy a round of drinks then they’d have to get $5 worth and then step away from the counter and come back,” he says, “so that was kind of a hassle.”
Starting July 1st, customers will be allowed to redeem up to $50 worth of tickets at a time thanks to language included in a bill approved in the final hours of the 2009 legislative session. That’s a ten-fold increase.
Bobenhouse says state legislators “took away quite a bit” of profit from his business when they pulled the plug on the “TouchPlay” machines which dispensed Iowa Lottery tickets, so letting customers redeem more coupons from the two “amusement devices” he has in his bowling alley helps the bottom line, as patrons plug a dollar into the machines for every “play.”
“They are extra revenue, so any time the state can help us out that way, it’s a plus,” Bobenhouse says. There are nearly seven-thousand “amusement devices” in Iowa bars, bowling alleys and even a few convenience stores. The machines pre-date the Lottery’s TouchPlay machines and that five-dollar limit on the coupons from these slot-machine-like machines had been in effect since 1987.
Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo, says the $5 limit was making crooks out of people. “When you have a customer that’s in the establishment all the time and they want to cash in more tickets than they’re legally able to that puts a lot of pressures on the owners and this, I think, relieves it a little bit and makes it more fair,” Dotzler says.
Dotzler’s mother owns a tavern and he is responsible for putting the change in the last bill to clear the legislature. Bill Wohlers owns Red Line Vending which distributes and services the amusement devices in northeast Iowa. He says the five-dollar restriction was outdated.
“It’s gotten to the point, of course, where $5 is just not worth anything,” Wohlers says. “In fact, it was hard to come up with anything of value that they normally would sell in the course of business that you could get for $5.”
State law has limited social and charitable gambling prizes to $50 in a 24-hour period, which means kids who win prizes playing the games at Chuck E. Cheeze’s, for example, are not to win something worth more than $50.