Last month’s ban of the Iowa Lottery’s TouchPlay games has sparked calls to the lottery’s headquarters about other slot-like machines found in some bars and restaurants. It turns out there are many electronic games classed by the state as “amusement devices.”
David Werning, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, explains “amusement device” doesn’t mean a game of skill or chance, and it’s not a gambling device. He says it’s also not possible to rig one to play poker, keno or blackjack. These games were around long before the state lottery came up with TouchPlay and convinced investors to buy the machines and place them in public business locations.
If you win a prize the amusement device prints out a coupon, redeemable for merchandise. The law says you can’t turn in more than five-dollars worth of those coupons in any single transaction, and they must be good for merchandise at the business where the machine’s located. Werning says the regulators regularly hear from citizens concerned about what they suspect may be a violation of the legislation this spring that shut down the Touch Play games.
But he explains if the machine was there before TouchPlay, it’s still legal. Iowans call and say they think they’ve seen a TouchPlay machine in some business. Werning says it’s probably an amusement device, and if it’s a holdover from before it’s fine — but if it’s a new one, that’s not allowed.
There are some seven-thousand of the machines in 24-hundred bars, fraternal lodges and restaurants, and those are still allowed. The agency’s found some people are trying to put an amusement device in a location where a TouchPlay game once was located.
“Unless that location has a full liquor license,” Werning says, “they can’t do it.” If the inspectors find someone’s illegally put a machine in their business, the agency can revoke the license of the machine and even the registration of the manufacturer or distributor. If the operator is paying out cash prizes, it’s a violation of Iowa’s vice laws.
In some cases, the amusement devices were placed in convenience stores, and Werning says those are only “grandfathered in” if they were in place before TouchPlay was adopted and then shut down. But if the owner gave up an amusement device for Touch Play, they’ve lost the rights to re-install an electronic game and doing it could get them criminally prosecuted.