Ga. SC issues opinion on video game machines

Jessica M. Karmasek Oct. 15, 2010, 11:30am


ATLANTA (Legal Newsline) - The Georgia Supreme Court last week reversed the decision of an appeals court, ruling that a group of seven video game machines are not considered illegal gambling devices.

The Court, in its opinion filed Oct. 4, said that the appeals court majority "erred" by reversing a trial court's previous decision on the basis "that it failed to properly interpret a 'single play.'"

The Court granted certiorari to address whether the seven video game machines in question were illegal gambling devices or whether they were considered coin-operated games designed and manufactured for amusement purposes only.

A trial court originally found the machines to be for amusement purposes only, and denied the State's petition to condemn the particular machines.

The appeals court saw it differently, believing they were illegal.

At issue, the Court says, is the term "single pay."

The appeals court construed the phrase to mean that a "'single play of the game or device' has occurred when a player cannot continue playing the game machine or device without providing additional consideration," and concluded, "(i)n short, if the player does not 'cash out' at this point for a prize not to exceed $5 in value, he or she may only use accumulated winnings to start the game anew."

The appeals court rendered its decision in June 2009, and the Court granted certiorari in January.

However, while the appeal was pending, the Georgia Legislature amended the definitional statute for the revenue chapter governing the taxation of "bona fide" coin-operated amusement machines.

That amendment, which was signed by the governor on May 26, 2010 and became effective July 1, 2010, contains the following definition:

"'Single pay' or 'one play' means the completion of a sequence of a game, or replay of a game, where the player receives a score and from the score the player can secure free replays, merchandise, points, tokens, vouchers, tickets, or other evidence of winnings..."

The amendment goes on to say that a player may, but is not required to, exchange a score for rewards after each play.

Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein, who authored the Court's opinion, wrote that the amendment specifically defines the language at issue in the appeal.

"The Legislature clarified its intent as to the meaning of a 'single play' both as it pertains to the statutory $5.00 cap placed on rewards of non-cash merchandise, prizes, toys, gift certificates, or novelties in (state law) and as to that term's usage in the non-cash redemption provision in (state law)."

The Court wrote that the trial court's "interpretation of a 'single play' is consonant with the Legislature's definition of that term as set forth in this recent legislation."

For that reason, the Court upheld the trial court's decision.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at

More News