Mechanical amusement regulation bill amended, advanced

The Nebraska Department of Revenue would determine in advance of distribution whether certain mechanical amusement devices are games of skill or chance under a bill advanced from select file May 13.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist12' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Steve Lathrop'>Sen. Steve Lathrop</a>
Sen. Steve Lathrop

LB538, introduced by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, would add electronic video games of skill to the definition of a mechanical amusement device and require the department to determine if such devices are games of skill or chance.

“This bill is about trying to provide a practical enforcement mechanism,” Lathrop said. “We’re going to eliminate those machines that are essentially slot machines.”

Under current law, games of chance other than the state lottery and certain charitable enterprises are illegal. A device would be considered a game of chance under LB538 if one of the following applies:
• a player’s chances of winning are affected by the wins and losses of previous players;
• the game can be controlled by a source other than the person playing the game;
• the success of a player is determined by chance and cannot be altered by the player’s actions;
• game features that are not visible, or known by the players, can affect the outcome; or
• a player’s success is impacted by skills no reasonable player could exercise.

The bill would require distributors of such games to pay a $500 application fee, submit a sample game to the Nebraska Department of Revenue, provide evidence that the device is a game of skill and provide an affidavit to the tax commissioner that no functional changes would be made to the device’s hardware or software without the commissioner’s approval after the license is granted.

Possession of an illegal device would be a Class II misdemeanor under the bill.

LB538 also would require game owners to pay an annual $250 licensure fee per device. The bill would not apply to pickle cards, lotteries or bingo games.

Lathrop offered an amendment during select file debate that would:
• allow owners of mechanical amusement devices to continue operating them while the department reviews their devices;
• establish 19 as the legal age to play such devices; and
• bar use of a credit or debit card for payment.

Lathrop said Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston was instrumental in drafting the amendment, adopted 32-1, which addressed concerns she expressed during general file debate.

Albrecht said she opposes gambling in all forms, but wanted to regulate gaming devices as much as possible.

“When you pay money out, that’s what gives me heartburn. I don’t want young children starting sooner than they need to and I don’t want to see more machines than there have to be,” Albrecht said.

A second Lathrop amendment, adopted 42-0, would set a maximum of four devices for establishments up to 4,000 square feet in size. Larger establishments would be allowed one additional device per 1,000 square feet up to a maximum of 15 devices.

Following adoption of the amendments, LB538 was advanced to final reading 40-0.

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