Chuck E. Cheese: Where a Kid Can Gamble Like an Adult

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What with all the flashing screens, dinging bells, and glazed-over customers absorbed in the games at hand, a Chuck E. Cheese arcade bears quite a resemblance to the slot machine section of a casino. Are kids, in fact, gambling in between their pizza and soda?

Thanks to new legislation in Florida targeting Internet café sweepstake gambling operations, there’s an argument to be made that some Chuck E. Cheese games involve gambling and are therefore illegal. Since kids are the chain’s main clientele, that’s a problem for more reason than one.

Many states have cracked down on Internet café gambling in recent years. Last summer, the Wall Street Journal reported on the efforts in places such as Ohio, South Carolina, and Michigan to shut down—or at least regulate—these cafes, which are filled with simulated slot-machine games and often operate totally out in the open in strip mall locations. While the games vary, most involve plastic swipe cards that are purchased by customers and give users a certain number of “sweepstakes” entries in games of chance played on video screens. The games, which offer cash prizes, have been especially popular among the elderly. “It has become my world,” one 70-year-old woman told the WSJ while inside her neighborhood gambling café in Ohio.

Such Internet cafes began appearing in Massachusetts in large numbers around 2009, and in the summer of 2011, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley affirmed that these operations were illegal. “This kind of activity, gambling, is not allowed under Massachusetts law,” Coakley said at the time, according to the Boston Globe. “They are totally unregulated, there’s no oversight, and there is no protection for the consumer.”

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Business owners have argued that the games are legal sweepstakes because they allow anyone to participate for a few rounds without spending any money. “It’s not gambling,” the lawyer for one Internet parlor in western Massachusetts explained to the Springfield Republican. “It’s really paying for computer time.”

Nonetheless, two of the largest such Internet cafes in the state agreed to pay fines of $750,000 total in July 2012.

Last month, Florida passed new legislation specifically outlawing the video gambling machines, as well as small coin-operated games of chance often installed in blue-collar restaurants, prompting law enforcement officers to hit strip malls all over the state “like the Untouchables, seizing dozens of machines from mom-and-pop stores and cafes and arresting their owners,” according to the Miami Herald.

And yet, one very well-known restaurant-entertainment chain that caters to kids has escaped the attention of the authorities. The Herald reported that while some of the games inside Chuck E. Cheese locations could also be construed as illegal according to the new law, authorities are doing nothing to shut them down. “It’s just discrimination,” said one café owner, who was threatened with being arrested or fined if she refused to turn off her 100 simulated slot machines, according to the Herald:

“How can the machines be bad for my customers, who are adults spending their own money, but not for kids? This is something you expect in a country like Cuba, not the United States.”

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This isn’t the first time that the Chuck E. Cheese chain has been discussed in the same breath as gambling. In 2011, a mom in San Diego sued the company for $5 million because the “casino-style gambling devices” could put children on the road to gambling addiction.

The Miami Herald article states that the authorities throughout Florida are simply looking the other way at the seemingly illegal games inside Chuck E. Cheese, as well as popular restaurant-gaming chains such as Dave & Buster’s and Boomers. The law stipulates that for machines to be legal, they must be coin-operated (no dollar bills or swipe cards), they must involve some skill (not just be games of pure chance), and they cannot award cash or gift cards as prizes. The only prizes allowed are merchandise, and the maximum value of prizes is a mere 75¢. Some of the prizes for Chuck E. Cheese boardwalk-type games of chance are worth around $20, which would seem to make them illegal. Dave and Buster’s games also offer prizes worth well over 75¢, and the games aren’t operated by coins, but smart cards that customers swipe.

Some are arguing that the lack of enforcement concerning these chains is because the law isn’t meant to target restaurant and entertainment companies, though it’s unclear exactly why certain businesses get a free pass. The Naples News quoted Gale Fontaine, president of the Florida Arcade Association, who described the targeting of adult arcades as an “abuse of police power.” A lawsuit was filed in April claiming that the new law is unconstitutional. Plaintiffs say that the legislation is “arbitrary” and “irrational,” and “is therefore void for vagueness and leaves open the possibility of enforcement despite the lack of standards.”

For now, per the Herald, the one thing that’s clear is that no local authorities want to use the new law for the purposes of putting a beloved cartoon character behind bars:

“I’m not going to go arrest Chuck E. Cheese in front of a bunch of 6-year-olds,” said Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, whose city, on the day the law took effect, confiscated 72 machines from cafes and arcades that cater to the elderly. “If the governor and the Legislature want that, they can come and do it themselves.”

29 comments
baramos
baramos

I can't believe something like this has been published in a supposedly "journalistic" institution like Time.com. The machines in Chuck E. Cheese do not meet the standard of gambling machines not only legally but in function: they distribute tickets which are exchanged for physical objects/prizes, not cash. Also, the distribution of tickets is controlled, at some level, by "skill". It may be a very minor, pointless skill (such as dropping a token with the right timing to land it in a moving conveyer belt), but it is skill-based. There is no machine in Chuck E. Cheese which distributes a random amount of tickets simply for pressing a button, as a slot machine would. There is always some intermediary entertainment-based gameplay device in the transaction.


While Chuck E. Cheese is an expensive waste of money where kids win "prizes" a fraction of the cost of the tokens they've expended, it's not gambling by any definition.

faith2624
faith2624

okay first off this article is great! secondly i followed this story, read the bill and even talked to the gm at a local chucke cheese and let me tell you, there is a list of machines that are classifed under "gaming" in florida - such as a pinball machine, pool tables, and all other arcade style machines, this includes the ones at the adult arcades and the machines at your local kiddie arcades, both under SAME LAW! when i spoke with my local gm of chucke cheese he did no know that this new bill effected them. THEN HOW DOES HE PAY TAXES CORRECTLY! all adult arcades in my town paid the correct amount of taxes !! anyone that says differently is only taking what they have read or heard and repeating it, much like the game telephone, youll always get it wrong! if they are open under the same law then how is it legal for the mayor to say he is not going to arrest anyone infront of children? so can the adult arcades open back up because they wont arrest anyone infront of seniors? THIS IS NOT RIGHT!!!! IT IS SELECTIVE ENFORCEMENT!!!! AND IT IS ILLEGAL! anyone that doesnt see that needs to go look up the bill hb 155, drive around your town and go into these places.

jonesy974
jonesy974

Seriously? Please explain how this leads to gambling addiction? I went to Chuck E. Cheese like a thousand times as a kid and I turned out fine.  Do they not realize that eventually you outgrow that place by the time you're like 12? Then you have nowhere to go until you're old enough for Dave and Busters and then years after that you can finally go to a casino.

pac626
pac626

If people want to gamble then let them. it's a free country.


TimothyDonner
TimothyDonner

Gamble like an adult?  Let me turn your attention to the video game Diablo 3.  Where kids can not only have a chance-based play experience, but flip the items in a real-life auction house where they earn real money.  Some kids are earning thousands a month.  I don't see how this hasn't become an outrage.

mbcls
mbcls

can't kids have some funs these freaking days??  sheesh!

yellow2
yellow2

In the UK the machines that spit out tickets here, spit out money there. No minors allowed.

richg425
richg425

Chuck E Cheese and Dave and Busters are gambling---low skill games and luck rewarded with tickets that can be exchanged for merchandise. It is a kids casino--nothing else. My son just went to Dave and Busters for a party and all I could think about was Vegas--no windows, no clocks, lots of bells ringing--just needed a floozy bringing out watered down root beer.

BenIncaHutz
BenIncaHutz

Chuck E Cheese is not gambling but the "food" is so bad it really need to be outlawed. That crap they call Pizza and charge a fortune for is simply cardboard with spaghetti sauce and oily cheese. Its digsusting.

wladimir917
wladimir917

I thought the law was for everyone, this is discrimination and we lost our work with this new law, more than 10,000 people living on unemployment and food stamps right now. Why the authorities do not close kiddie arcades that do not comply with the law. Why only attack and persecute adult arcades? Authorities should enforce the law equally to all. Why it's illegal only for some people and not others? How can we trust our authorities do not fulfill their work, perhaps there is no law to protect us and force the authorities to implement and enforce the law? Authorities who do not enforce the law has no moral right to submit only a certain group of people covered under the same law, clearly this is defined as discrimination. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution limit the power of the federal and state governments to discriminate. I understand that something like this can happen in countries ruled by dictatorships, but in a free and democratic country like the United States seems impossible that it could be happening, something is not right.

etowndoubler
etowndoubler

Here in UK we have much more relaxed rules on gambling and as with alcohol and drugs, it is up to parents and teachers and family  to set good examples of gambling, and showing it is harmless like alcohol in moderation. Taking a response like the religious right would like in banning gambling would be bad. I gambled before I was 18 like many kids I know on fruit machines(search it similar to one arm bandits) and I have not grown up to be a gambling addict. Like some of the other comments on here I think alcohol is a worse problem than gambling is for teens and kids.

Fargrist
Fargrist

There are worse examples.  A New York company owns Runescape, a worldwide online game that allows gambling of up to $200 per day.  The gambling component is called Squeal of Fortune.  The owner is Insight Venture Partners of New York, and the operator of Runescape is Jagex Ltd. of Cambridge UK.

2012 saw the game tick over 200 million accounts created.  It was the same year Squeal of Fortune was created, allowing kids to buy spins on a wheel for random prizes.

This parasitic behavior needs outlawing. 

pete.lempa
pete.lempa

There is an easy fix to this for Florida.

I live in NJ, which takes gambling regulation seriously.  The Chuck E. Cheese games in NJ dispense the same amount of tickets per play, regardless of the results.... i.e. get 400 points in ski-ball, get 3 tickets, get 25 points in ski-ball, get 3 tickets.  There is no gambling, just a fixed prize for playing. 

In other states, I assume including Florida, the machines are set to dispense rewards based on results.... the 400 points in ski-ball may get you 8 tickets.  This is where they flirt with "gambling".

The tickets do have an approximate cash value, as they are redeemed for "prizes", mostly trivial, but still of some value, which can also be purchased for cash.

  I'm not saying this is the worst plague facing our children by far, but I also see nothing wrong with being consistent.  If gambling regulations are to be enforced in bars and malls, they should also be enforced in children's kid zones.

  Just change the settings on the games and continue on.  If Mommy or Daddy really want their Precious to have the Glitter Sparkle Slinky Pencil, they can just pay the $7.99 at the end of the night and save us all some drama.


Oh, and by the way, for a loud crowded crazy but fun kids' place, the have really GOOD pizza!

nipseymc
nipseymc

It's a kid's game you d-bags.  Someone really has too much time on their hands.  I went to Showbiz Pizza as a kid and played games with my coins to win tickets and I'm not a compulsive gambler as an adult.  Some people are just straight up retarded.

jupitersballad
jupitersballad

I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who refers to this place as the Kiddy Casino. I really miss the way it was when I was a kid. There were some random games of chance but it was mostly arcade games and games of skill.

pandora.doggle
pandora.doggle

Sure glad we have someone looking to protect kids' hard earned money from those evil games. It's a shame there isn't someone just directly in the kids' lives that, you know, determine where they can go or what they can do or somehow control how much money they're spending.

cocobinay
cocobinay

And why is daddy still allowed to have that bottle of gin in the house?? Alcoholism is a serious problem too, you know!!

These kids can wait until they grow up and go to Wall Street and gamble with people's life savings, or to Washington and gamble with people's lives! Totally legal in both case and makes you look like a success!!
(Couldn't help it!!)


TonyXL
TonyXL

Doncha just love big government?

Travon
Travon

Hmm. If this gambling for kids could help them get a decent jobs in the future then let us support it. But if they deemed itdestructive for the kids psychology then please do not be happy about it.  I've read Vivek Sood’s book The 5-Star Business Networks wherein he mentioned that innovation is important for business and so is the different strategies the company will present. I know that this arcade is just giving a strategy for money but i do hope they would think about the pros and cons.

WhoKnewIt
WhoKnewIt

The only reason they are trying to shut them down is because it's not being regulated and tax money isn't being made.  It's all about the money and not about "the laws".  If they are enforcing their laws they need to ban all Lottery games.....but we know that won't happen because they are making a LOT of money off of it.  Double standard....

JackKennedy1
JackKennedy1

It is not gambling, dorks. It is dumb kids games nobody over age eight will be amused by for five min.

rubensmail01
rubensmail01

"The law stipulates that for machines to be legal, they must be coin-operated (no dollar bills or swipe cards), they must involve some skill (not just be games of pure chance), and they cannot award cash or gift cards as prizes" 

How about we ban the Lottery then.


jig813
jig813

If you're  a 70-year-old lady and want to participate in some small-time sweepstakes, you should have every right to. I presume all the states mentioned allow scratch-off lotto tickets (or at least some sort of lottery games). What makes those any different from the games these states are cracking down on?

The fact that this legislation would technically apply to something as benign as Chuck E. Cheese only shows how silly it really is. Either the legislators of these states are a bunch of sticklers and moralists, or (more likely, I think) they just can't stand the idea of lucrative commerce going on in their state without being taxed.

DuckBeach
DuckBeach

Can picture a bunch of police officers beating Chuck E. Cheese with billy clubs.    Overheard:  "That's what you get mouse!"

(Back to normalcy) Lighten up with the Pizza Time gambling addiction crap, people.

tjsands1118
tjsands1118

@mbcls I wouldn't take the "this dang age" stance, as they did the same thing in the 60's with pinball machines and penny arcades, didn't really work then, won't work now. Though I guess pinball is still illegal in a few counties across the states.

baramos
baramos

@richg425 "low skill" is still skill-based. A slot machine requires no skill. It is entirely chance.


Yeah, it's a waste of money. But it's not gambling.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@wladimir917 Arcades generally don't return anything for the money spent.  You pay to play and that's it.  The gambling at Chuck E Cheese involves the game tokens that can be turned in for prizes.  This encourages kids to keep spending money to get the game tokens that get the prizes.

Take away the prizes or offer them as a lottery item - come in, get a single ticket per paying person.  Must be present to win.  No other purchase necessary. Prizes may also be purchased OTC (if it is a better revenue source).

That takes the gambling out of the equation and encourages people to hang around and buy stuff.  

If THIS law put YOU out of work, it's because YOU chose a bad employer.  This isn't even a law, dude.  It's proposed legislation and any sane, legal business can adapt to it to avoid being a place of gambling just as I've outlined above.  If you were working for one of those online gambling sites, then as I said, you chose very poorly for whom to work, and didn't plan for when they'd be closed down.  Anyone with eyes and an Internet connection would know the days of those things continuing to operate were limited.  This is on you and your 10,000 cohorts.

That's a mere dew speck in the unemployment bucket, by the way.

The law APPLIES to everyone.  It's never FOR anyone.  Life IS change. Those are lessons that one either learns, and adapts to, or dies trying.  Learning and adapting means a longer life.  This is on you.  Not the government.  Take some responsibility for your bad choices.