Competing versions of COAM reform pass the General Assembly |
ATLANTA — Legislation making major changes to regulations governing Georgia’s coin-operated amusement machine (COAM) industry is back on the table at the General Assembly.
But the State House and Senate committees passed starkly different versions of COAM reform this week.
Both chambers’ regulated industries committees have approved raising the price limit on so-called “kiddie” machines typically found at businesses such as Dave & Buster’s and Chuck E. Cheese from tradeable goods d worth 5 to 50 dollars.
Both versions of the legislation would also exempt fraternal and veterans organizations from the requirement that locations hosting adult COAM machines derive at least 50% of their revenue from the machines.
But the Senate committee removed from its version of the bill a provision allowing the awarding of gift cards to winners. The Senate legislation would also increase the share of machine revenue going to the Georgia Lottery from 10% to 30%.
The companies that own the machines and the convenience stores, restaurants and other businesses that install them would each receive 35% of the proceeds, up from 45% currently.
COAM’s revenue has skyrocketed since the Georgia Lottery began operating the machines in 2014.
An industry that brought in more than $2 billion in 2016 more than doubled its revenue to $4.5 billion last year. Revenue from HOPE scholarships and Georgia’s pre-kindergarten programs has grown from $33.5 million in 2016 to $145 million last year.
Much of that growth has come during the coronavirus pandemic, lottery president and CEO Gretchen Corbin told Senate committee members on Tuesday.
“We provided a very good form of entertainment during this time,” she said.
But the COAM industry has been plagued with retailers giving cash payouts to winners. The gift card provision in the House bill is intended to deter this illegal activity, said State Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, House committee chairman and lead sponsor of the bill. from the room.
“It would take away any justification for these people to hand out cash,” he said.
But Georgia Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, chairman of the Senate committee, said Senate leadership does not support awarding gift cards.
Another provision Senate leaders are insisting on is increasing the lottery’s share of COAM’s revenue from 10% to 30%, he said.
Cowsert said the higher take is more in line with what other states are collecting from their COAM machines.
He also noted that the Georgia Lottery Corp. earns 27% of the proceeds from lottery sales.
Emily Dunn, CEO of Tom’s Amusement Co., an installer of COAM machines in Blue Ridge, said awarding gift cards would attract more players and, therefore, increase sales.
“We need more transparency,” she said. “This card gives it to us.”
As is the case with the General Assembly’s efforts to legalize casinos in Georgia, the COAM legislation is drawing opposition from faith groups warning of rising rates of bankruptcy, suicides and domestic violence associated with gamblers. dependent.
“It’s a dangerous industry,” said Mike Griffin, public affairs director for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. “The social cost usually outweighs any benefit you get.”
Lack of consensus on how to reform COAM affairs doomed the legislation in the General Assembly last year, and differences between House and Senate bills could cause problems again this year .
Crossover Day falls on Tuesday. Bills must pass at least one legislative chamber to stay alive for the year.
This story is available through a partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.