Wednesday, February 5, 2003
‘Scratchers’ Terminals Are Not Slot Machines—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Vending machines that dispense lottery tickets do not add any element of chance to the transaction, so they cannot be deemed illegal slot machines, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Even though every machine that sells “Scratchers” tickets has a predetermined number of winning tickets, the court ruled, there is nothing in the manner of play that determines whether the customer wins or loses. The purchase does not pit the player against the house—in this case the California State Lottery.
The ruling is the latest rejection of attempts by plaintiff John Trinkle to curb what he sees as the excesses of legalized state gambling, especially as it provides competition to his own vending machine business and his attempts to add lottery or gambling-like elements to keep customers interested.
This district’s Court of Appeal last year granted Attorney General Bill Lockyer a declaration that jukeboxes owned by Trinkle or his partnership, Galaxy Vending, and placed in various amusement establishments were in fact illegal slot machines. Even though everyone who put a dollar into the machine got what they paid for—four song selections—some also got, at random, a money jackpot. Adding an element of chance converted a music vending machine into an illegal slot, the court ruled in 2000.
In 1999, Trinkle came out on the short end of a Third District decision rejecting his contention that the California State Lottery was engaged in unfair business competition.
In 1996, the state Supreme Court ruled that the California State Lottery’s Keno terminals on which patrons bet money and won prizes were illegal, not being within the organization’s special authority to conduct lotteries. That same year, California’s then-attorney general, Dan Lungren, ruled that Scratcher vending machines—4,100 of which were in operation around the state—were illegal slot machines and ordered their removal from California amusement centers and retail stores.
But the Third District yesterday upheld a summary judgment ruling for the California State Lottery and rejected Trinkle’s assertion that the lottery’s latest Scratchers machines are illegal vending machines.
“The mere use of electronic vending machines to dispense lottery tickets does not transform the lawful sale of lottery tickets into an unlawful use of slot machines, where as here, the machines inject no additional element of chance into the determination or distribution of the winning lottery ticket,” Justice Coleman A. Blease said.
Under the Penal Code, elements of a slot machine are insertion of money or another object that causes the machine to operate, operation of the machine that is unpredictable and governed by chance, and the fact that the user may get something of value due to chance operation of the machine.
In the case of Scratchers machines, Trinkle said, all the elements are there—the patron puts in money and takes his or her chance, getting a ticket which may or may not pay off.
But Blease said Trinkle’s analysis ignored a key element of Penal Code Sec. 330b—”by reason of any element of hazard or chance or of other outcome of such operation unpredictable by him....”
“By using the words ‘such operation,’ the Legislature linked the element of chance to the operation of the machine, requiring that the machine itself determine the element of chance and become the object of play,” Blease said.
Without that element of chance, a vending machine is just a vending machine, he said.
Vending machines that used to dispense candy, fortunes and music became illegal gambling machines whenever chance, and the opportunity for payouts, was added, he said. But Scratchers tickets are printed with symbols that definitively determine whether the ticket holder will win before the tickets ever reach the retail locations or are put into the machines.
“Nothing about the machine or its operation by the customer alters the order in which the tickets were arranged at the time they were printed,” he said.
“The element of chance...is essentially two-fold,” Blease said, “involving the printing of the winning tickets and the placement of those tickets in a predetermined sequence among the other tickets. It is built into the game at the time of manufacture, not at the time of purchase or play. Therefore, the operation of [a Scratchers vending machine] does not in any way affect the game’s element of chance.”
The case is Trinkle v. California State Lottery, C038754.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company