CHUCK E. CHEESE HOOKS KIDS ON GAMBLING
According to critics who have a lot of influence over the State Legislatures in Mississippi and California, games like Skeeball and Pop-A-Shot, in which players win tickets that can be redeemed for prizes, are gambling and should be regulated as such. This could put many video arcades, and Chuck E. Cheese's out of business.
In Mississippi, regulations already classify arcade machines and video games as gambling devices, but have not been strictly enforced. CEC Entertainment of Dallas, the parent company of Chuck E. Cheese's, and other companies tried to get the 2002 Mississippi Legislature to pass a law that would make arcade games legal as long as the coupons dispensed were redeemed for items with a wholesale value of forty dollars or less. Lawmakers refused to consider the bill, in spite of the many businesses that supported it.
We spoke to Edith Gunch, a senior citizen, and aide to a prominent State Senator. She told us, "Gambling is a plague upon society. It preys upon the poor and desperate. It takes food from the mouths of babies. Gambling addicts will steal and hock any valuables they can get their hands on to finance their gambling. Almost nobody wins more than they lose. It's a form of robbery. If you do actually win, that too is a form of robbery, after all, you didn't earn that money, did you? These so-called kids games like skeeball do nothing but teach young people to gamble. They are as addictive as drugs."
We also spoke to Jim Smith, a resident of Tupelo. He said, "Oh my God! these games are just good clean fun. Just because you go to Chuck E Cheese as a kid doesn't mean you will blow your paycheck at the riverboat as an adult. Kids are having fun, and some old killjoy sticks in the mud can't stand that. I think there is a vast conspiracy by old people to make sure 'young whipper-snappers' are not allowed to have any fun. Why can't those old fossils just go and die? Make room for the children! Edith Gunch probably thinks we should all be in church seven days a week."
In California, the Department of Justice, Division of Gambling control is looking into arcade games as well. A complaint from a company in Huntington Beach claims they have all the elements of gambling. You wager money by putting in a token, and playing a game's whose outcome is determined mostly by chance. You are awarded with tickets you cash in for prizes. To keep Skeeball and similar games legal for kids, their advocates will have to prove that they are games of skill, not just chance.
In Los Angeles, we spoke to a man living under a bridge in a cardboard box. He declined to give his name. He told us he got there by gambling. "I was a happy child from a good neighborhood and a good family. It all turned sour when they took me to Chuck E. Cheese's for my tenth birthday. I got hooked on playing all those games. I stole from my parents, bullied kids for their milk money, and hocked my baseball cards, all to finance my skeeball habit. Once I was 21, it was off to the casinos on Indian reservations. I wasted it all, and now I am here. See that mangy dog with that half-eaten McDonald's Burger? I'll bet you a dollar I can get it from him!" He did not wait for us to take or leave his wager, but ran toward the dog, which ran from him. My photographer and I never saw him again.
Lance Bruce of Reseda, a Chuck E. Cheese manager told us, "Oh puh-lease! That was so fake! The homeless man you interviewed was an actor, and that whole thing was staged. Those anti-gambling people will stop at nothing, and those unemployed actors will do anything for a buck. Why they think my little wonderland constitutes a casino is beyond my comprehension."
Will California and Mississippi ban Skeeball as gambling? Is this a trend that will spread? It remains to be seen.