Bank Shot can stay in bars

LINCOLN — Nebraska miscued in its attempt to sink Bank Shot, a video game played for $12,000 jackpots in bars across the state.

The Nebraska Supreme Court rejected Attorney General Jon Bruning’s argument that the Bank Shot games are illegal gambling devices and all 430 of them should be removed from bars.

Friday’s opinion was a victory for Bank Shot’s developer and distributor, as well as those who have wagered cash playing the billiard-themed game nearly 66 million times since its 2008 release.

“The Bank Shot folks have always, from the beginning, tried to work with the state to ensure they were in compliance with the law,” said Tom Locher, a lawyer who represents Greater America Distributing Inc. in Omaha, which distributed the games.

Nebraska law prohibits wagering on video games that are games of chance. Games of skill, however, are legal.

Bank Shot developer John Fox of American Amusements Co. in Omaha had the game inspected by the Nebraska State Patrol before he began selling it. The patrol, in turn, recommended that the game be examined by a firm specializing in compliance testing, which Fox did. The firm determined Bank Shot was a game of skill and therefore legal in Nebraska.

The game quickly became popular, and the consoles showed up in nearly 150 bars. In 2010, the patrol confiscated one of the games in McCook? and another in Grand Island.

Fox and the distributing company sued to stop the state from seizing more of the game consoles.

Lancaster County District Judge Steven Burns first heard the case. He determined that the game could be played in three modes — slow, fast and spin. In slow and fast modes, Bank Shot is a game of chance, but in spin mode it is a game of skill, the judge ruled.

The company responded by reprogramming the games so they could be played only in spin mode, Locher said.

But the state appealed to the Supreme Court, asking to have the game declared illegal in all modes.

Friday’s unanimous opinion by the high court affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

While the state lost the appeal, the legal challenge wasn’t without benefit, said Shannon Kingery, the attorney general’s spokeswoman.

“Based on our successful challenge at the district court, Bank Shot agreed to modify the illegal portions of the machine and not appeal that part of the decision,” she said in a prepared statement.

A spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Revenue deferred questions to the attorney general.

When asked whether law enforcement officers will have to routinely inspect the games to ensure they remain in the legal operating mode, Locher said the companies with a stake in the game have never tried to play dirty pool.

“Test it as much as you want,” he said. “Our folks have always opened the books to the state and given them the source codes.”

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