Disney ditching claw machines, video-game
By Sandra Pedicini
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Disney arcades will stop issuing prizes
No more claw machines, redemption counters at Disney
Walt Disney World plans to stop dispensing prizes at its hotel video-game arcades, and Florida's ban on Internet cafes may be to blame.
Prize redemption counters at the resort's hotels, where kids turn in game points for toys and candy, are being closed. The hotels and other spots in the resort are also losing claw machines, the joystick-maneuvered games that inspired one of the most famous scenes in "Toy Story."
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Disney acknowledged it is shutting down the redemption counters and claw machines but wouldn't say why. Some in Florida's arcade industry, though, say Disney appears to be avoiding the threat of legal action after the state's 2013 legislation banning Internet cafes. In its wake, opponents of the legislation have sued Dave & Buster's and Chuck E. Cheese's, arguing their arcade games also violate the broadly written law. Final rulings not been made in those lawsuits.
"I'm sure Disney's the last place in the world that wants to get accused of operating a gambling house," said Michael Wolf, an attorney representing the Florida Arcade and Bingo Association.
The law spells out that people can't win more than 75 cents' worth of prizes for each game played, and that the games have to be operated by coins. Like many other family entertainment centers, Disney's arcades are activated by cards. With each game they play, people can accumulate credits on the cards that can be exchanged for things such as Hello Kitty plush toys, Disney princess purses and mini-air-hockey games.
@patrick.*** . I'm all for the seniors going to the internet cafe for their entertainment. Just tax or permit the business and let them operate. The casino's aren't losing that much money from these local sites.
AT 3:29 PM JANUARY 12, 2015
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James Harhi, whose company JFH Technologies fills and maintains arcade games at the resort, said Disney told him "it's in their best interest to close these," because it fears legislation could be interpreted as outlawing the video games with prizes.
Harhi said that because Disney is removing so many machines that dispense prizes, he is laying off several of his company's employees, who make $15 to $17 an hour. Two have already been let go, he said, and he will probably have to lay off two or three more.
Disney is not laying off any of its own workers. A union representative said 22 employees who staff the counters are being put in other positions in mid-February.
Already, the Note'able Games arcade at Disney's All-Star Music Resort has gotten rid of its redemption counter. Disney still has the prize counters in five other hotels, including the Contemporary, All-Star Sports, All-Star Movies, Pop Century and Art of Animation.
The Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland Arcade is closing Feb. 8, and games from there will be going into the hotel arcades to replace the ones that issue prizes for points.
The impending removal of prizes "kind of stinks," said Johannah Palasky of Philadelphia, whose 8-year-old son, Connell, played in the Contemporary's Game Station last week.
The Contemporary's Game Station offers dozens of electronic games, including Pac-Man, Frogger and Monopoly, and many of them issue electronic "tickets" for prizes. The more tickets you get, the better the gifts.
Connell wanted to save up points on his card for one of the bigger rewards.
"My son loves it," Johanna Palasky said. He wins "average arcade stuff, but they're happy to get anything."
State Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, filed legislation last week that would loosen restrictions on family entertainment centers, including allowing machines to be operated by cards, not just coins, and increasing the allowed value of prizes. Stargel tried passing similar legislation last year, but it did not make it through the Legislature.
Stargel, whose district includes Disney World, said Disney's lobbyists had not spoken with her about the issue. Stargel said she had spoken with other businesses, including one in her district, along with Chuck E. Cheese and Dave & Buster's. Those chains still offer prizes.
Mike Abecassis, who owns several family entertainment centers called GameTime in Florida, said he hopes Disney might wait to remove the machines in hopes the legislation will pass.
"We'd prefer for them to not take that away," he said. "It just makes our business less relevant in the state."
The 2013 ban on Internet cafes came in the wake of a multistate probe into Allied Veterans of the World, an operator that billed itself as a charitable organization for veterans but which gave only about 2 percent of its profits to veterans groups.
The legislation also limited arcades that catered to senior citizens and offered low-stakes bets and paid off in things such as Publix gift cards. Many of those "senior arcades" — represented by the Florida Arcade and Bingo Association — ended up closing.
Wolf, the arcade and bingo association's attorney, has subsequently filed lawsuits against places such as Dave & Buster's. Those are on hold pending the results of a related federal lawsuit, he said.
"For the Legislature to think gambling for kids is OK but not for adults was pretty hypocritical," he said. "That was essentially what we were setting out to show."
Shortly after the law passed, the arcade association also sent an investigator to check out Disney's hotel arcades. The investigator, Carlos De Varona, made a complaint to the Orange County Sheriff's Office about the games. A report said the Sheriff's Office contacted the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation, which said there were no gaming-law violations. Suing Disney, said arcade association President Gale Fontaine, would have been "like trying to go after Goliath."
Still, Disney is likely showing "an abundance of caution" by getting rid of games for prizes, said David Ramba, a lobbyist who used to represent the arcade association.
"If I was their lobbyist, I would have told them to get rid of the machines too," Ramba said.
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