Save the Claw Machine in Florida!

An anti-gambling overreach threatens kiddie games.



Back in 2013 Florida saw a massive scandal over a nonprofit organization using gaming cafes across the state to allegedly raise millions of dollars for veterans. The problem was that only a small amount of that money actually went where it was supposed to go. Also, there was gambling. Some people didn't like that.

The state responded by cracking down and cracking down hard on gambling venues within the state. The target of their ban with a new law was supposed to be Internet gambling and video slot machines. Apparently that's not how the legislation ended up working out. The legislation was so broadly written that it could possibly apply to any sort of game that awards any sort of prize worth more than 75 cents. Initially the state was just using the law to crack down on Internet cafes and "senior arcades" that were hosting gambling. But then attorneys for these establishments went, "Hey, wait a minute? Why are we being targeted but not places like Dave and Buster's and kids' arcades?" Why is skee-ball different? Why are claw machines different?

That is a good question and explains why in January, Walt Disney World in Orlando (a company, it's worth pointing out, that has been fighting the legalization of gambling in the Sunshine State) yanked claw machines and redemption games out of all of its parks there. It removed so many that the company that fills and maintains the games for the parks said it would have to reduce its staff as a result.

Now Florida is scrambling for a legislative fix to save Chuck E Cheese and others. Unfortunately, Vending Times notes, this new law, SB 268, won't return things to the way it does before. Instead it turns the whole affair into a permission-based structure with all sorts of rules and regulations about how they work:

Under the proposed law, operators can offer a maximum redemption value of coupons or points a player receives for a single play of a skill-based game from 75¢ to $5.25, with a maximum value of 100 times that amount, or $525, for an item of merchandise obtained onsite using accumulated coupons or points. The maximum wholesale value of merchandise that may be dispensed directly to a player through the machine is limited to 10 times that amount, or $52.50.

The law even determines what types of businesses will be able to operate certain types of machines. Claw machines will be permitted in "a timeshare facility, arcade amusement center, bowling center, a retail premise, public lodging establishment, licensed public foodservice establishment, truck stop or veterans' service organization." What, no strip clubs? What about laundromats? At least pizza parlors are covered, so Disney's Toy Story plot is still safe.