• Games are for kids, not gambling, contends Mississippi Chuck E. Cheese's

Chuck E. Cheese's is hoping legislation pending before the full Mississippi Senate will allow its arcade games to become legal at its one pizza parlor in the state.

According to an Associated Press report, games of chance played outside of licensed casinos, such as video poker machines, are what the law was set up to prohibit, not arcade games.

Stanley Wright, owner of SD Amusements of Mississippi, claims Chuck E. Cheese's machines "are illegal" because, like the machines he sells, some of the 405-store pizza chain's games dispense tokens of value that can be redeemed for prizes. Should the new bill pass, and Chuck E. Cheese's be allowed to provide those games, Wright believes his machines should be allowed to distribute his as well.

Recently, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the actual payoff of an illegal gambling machine is not limited to those that dispense tokens and coins, but includes those which awards credits to players, even for free plays on the machine. Key to the justices' ruling was its specification of games of chance as illegal.

J.W. Ledbetter, chief of enforcement for the Mississippi Gaming Commission, said Chuck E. Cheese's machines are games of skill rather than chance. They offer "participation for a fixed price," compared to "video poker and the video eight-liners ... (that) allow you to 'double down' or 'raise your bet' to increase the odds or the amount of the prize."

To win inexpensive items or toys at Chuck E. Cheese's, players must win 60 or more tickets. Larger prizes, such as dolls, require 800 tickets or more. Jon Rice, vice president of marketing in Dallas for CEC Entertainment, parent company of Chuck E. Cheese's, said children typically win 100 to 200 tickets per visit, which will get them a prize worth $2 or less.

"I don't think anyone confuses what happens at Chuck E. Cheese's with video gambling," Rice said.

Sen. Neely Carlton, D-Greenville, who sponsored the Senate bill under debate, said the gaming law was not intended to restrict operations like Chuck E. Cheese's.

"We're not talking about games of chance similar to a slot machine, which is what we think about when we think of casinos," Carlton said. "Obviously, we're talking about tickets which are redeemable for merchandise of little or no value."

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