Wal-Mart Yanks Crane Games From Mississippi Stores
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has removed crane games from its Mississippi stores pending an attorney general's opinion on whether they are legal. Karen Burk, a spokeswoman from Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., said, "Due to an issue regarding these machines that made it unclear as to whether they were within the law, the machines were removed until response from the Attorney General's office is received stating that they are approved for use." The question is whether the crane games are gambling devices. In 2002, the Mississippi Gaming Commission redefined gambling games to protect children's arcades, such as those operated by the Chuck E. Cheese pizza chain, from being classified as casinos. The definition excludes any game that awards tickets or tokens, redeemable for toys, based upon player skill. Chuck E. Cheese's parent, CEC Entertainment of Dallas, had asked the Legislature to approve a law that would make its kids' arcade games legal as long as the coupons dispensed were redeemed for merchandise with a wholesale value of $40 or less. Lawmakers did not consider the bill. Amusement company owners said they believe they - and the games they put in convenience stops, truck stops and bars - have been unjustly targeted by Mississippi regulators. The Gaming Commission's crackdown on gaming devices located away from licensed casinos had resulted in Mississippi Supreme Court decisions that found such arcade machines illegal under existing law.
The Mississippi Supreme Court has held that amusement machines that dispense something of value upon the insertion of a coin are illegal slot machines. The justices said the issue of payoff under state law is not limited to tokens and coins. They said there was no practical difference between a credit awarded to a player and a token dispensed from a machine. Leigh Ann Wilkins, spokeswoman for the Gaming Commission, said Wal-Mart acted on its own. "The MGC did not tell Wal-Mart to pull their crane games out of their stores. Chuck E. Cheese's games became an issue and that is why regulations were set to draw a clear line," Wilkins told the Starkville Daily News. Wal-Mart officials said the Gaming Commission regulation appears to make illegal. "The law is very vague. I saw it blatantly the first time I looked it up on the Internet," said Bo Shell, general manager of the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Starkville. Shell said the regulation provides that the amount of consideration required to play the game or operate the device or machine is not more than 25 cents The crane games at Wal-Mart require 50 cents to operate. When asked about crane games falling under the regulation, Wilkins had no comment. "We chose to pull the machines and we won't put them back until the law is clear," said Shell.