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Issue Date: Vol. 54, No. 7, July 2014, Posted On: 7/11/2014

At Last: San Francisco Updates Coin-Op Laws

Hank Schlesinger
TAGS: San Francisco video game restriction, Penal Code, arcade game law, coin-operated amusement device, San Francisco Board of Supervisors, coin-op entertainment law, pinball machine, London Breed, Scott Wiener

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has finally brought the city's coin-op entertainment law into the 21st century. The board on July 8 passed legislation that eliminates many outdated regulations, including a cap on the number of games permitted in a location, in place for more than three decades. The new rules reduce the restrictions on locations and relax permit requirements for coin-op equipment and arcades.

Changes in the ordnance include:

» A permit is now required only for an arcade (defined as 11 or more coin-operated devices) or two or more devices located in a bar. One device in a bar or up to 10 devices operated in a location that is not a bar would not require a permit.

» The limitation on the number of devices allowed based on the square footage of retail space is removed.

» The prohibition on arcades in areas zoned exclusively for commercial business or community use is also removed.

The amended ordinance also updates procedures for permit application, review, issuance, suspension and revocation, as well as criminal and administrative penalty provisions. It removes obsolete permit requirements, and clarifies that permissible coin-op machines do not include gambling devices or games of chance.

London Breed
London Breed
The new Police Code provisions for coin-op devices and arcades are their first substantive amendment since they were enacted in 1982. At that time, the public had become alarmed at the rapidly increasing number of coin-op videogames; there was widespread concern regarding crowding, petty crime and truancy, among other vices, sometimes associated with arcades and amusements.

Today, proponents of the new regulations point out, videogames are readily available through other means, such as on personal mobile devices and home-entertainment systems. And many classic games like pinball have become niche novelties, diminishing public concerns about any secondary social effects.

Scott Wiener
Scott Wiener
The new regulations were spearheaded San Francisco Supervisors London Breed and Scott Wiener. | SEE STORY

Both board members have small businesses within their districts who want to offer classic coin-op games on their premises. At the time of its introduction, the new Police Code regulations gained widespread support among the public -- and prompted some snickers from the press. Not only did the retrograde rules governing videogames belie the city's progressive public image, it also appeared ironic that an epicenter of the videogame entertainment industry had virtually outlawed the games.

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