Bar Video Game Raises Legal Questions

Despite a recent controversy over the legality of a new video game popping up in bars across the state, local bar owners indicate they don't intend to abandon it unless it is proven to be illegal.

Rick Svoboda, co-owner of the Hide-Away, 1104 W. J St., said he has two Bank Shot games in the bar. While the game doesn't make money every day, he said they have helped keep the bar in the black. Svoboda said he called the vendor in February or March and asked to bring in the game after he saw competing businesses with the game.

"It can be good for a bar," he said. "It's worth having them in."

While the additional revenue source helps the bottom line in the current economic situation, he said if the games are ruled illegal, they would be shut down and removed.

In Nebraska, games that are purely based on luck are illegal unless voted in through an election, such as keno, horse racing and pull tab cards. Games that based on skill are legal.

Bank Shot is a touch-screen game that shows players patterns on a 3-by-3 grid of numbered balls. Players press a button to start and stop the game, attempting to stop on a winning pattern. There are 30,000 patterns built into the game with about 27 patterns shown in each minute of play.

Each play wagers between 25 cents and $4 in hopes of winning a progressive jackpot that increases as the game is played across the state. This morning, the highest jackpot amount was $17,000. The vendors of the game say it is a game of skill.

Carlie Cleveland, manager at Disabled American Veterans, 302 S. Elm Ave., said the game has been crucial to supplementing lost income after the statewide indoor smoking ban drove smoking customers to other establishments with outdoor drinking areas.

It helps pay the bills," he said. "At first, it was a little shaky, but it seems to have settled a bit so we're making money."

Cleveland said he has been awaiting rulings about the game and plans to keep the machines in the business unless they are ruled illegal.

The Nebraska State Patrol confiscated two games from Grand Island's Fonner Park Keno in January so they could be tested, according to previous news reports. Lt. Dennis Leornard of the Nebraska State Patrol said he couldn't provide information about the seizure.

Patrol spokesman Mike Meyer said, "We consider this an ongoing investigation to determine if these are games of skill or chance. The state patrol is supportive of the interim study by the Legislature as a venue that can sort out issues pertaining to Bank Shot and other forms of gambling."

The machines are back in play at Fonner Park, lending proof to game designer John Fox's assertion that the game is legal.

Fox, president of American Amusements Inc. of Bellevue, said Bank Shot was specifically designed with Nebraska's gaming laws in mind. Before the game was released, Fox said it was examined by Eclipse Compliance Testing in Ohio, which reported that the game is based on skill.

Fox said the game has been tested at three different facilities and he has seen no indication that it has been determined to be a game of chance.

He said the game is similar to others seen at county fairs and arcades, like a circle of light bulbs in which a player wins if the button is pushed at the right point. He said the reason Bank Shot has garnered so much attention is that i has been placed in bars and taverns.

"I think it's because we put it in adult places," he said.

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