'Games of skill' or illegal gambling? Local game parlors at center of debate

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO/KJCT) -- Are they battlefields for games of speed and strategy? Or is it time to press your luck?

It's a question pitting small arcade parlors all across the state against law enforcement agencies and the casino industry.

So what's the difference between a game of skill and a game of chance? To learn more, this reporter went inside Charlie Chedda's on North Avenue in Grand Junction to find out from the inside how these games actually work.

"They are really just arcade games like Dave and Busters have," said Trey Franzoy, the owner of Charlie Chedda's in Grand Junction.

Once you walks inside, you see rows of slot-type machines. And while they look like slots, and sound like slots, Franzoy insists they are not slots.

"It's nothing like a casino. You're not going to come in here and put in $20 and hit $1000," Franzoy said.

He demonstrated how it's a matter of skill not chance. The games rely on finding certain patterns which match up to a certain amount of points.

"By just hitting play and playing like a slot you'll never win," Franzoy said.

The objects are to be the fastest the most consistent and to do that better than everyone in the room. After a set time, the contest ends and the top score finds out how much they win on the big monitor.

There are also so-called 'fish games' that this reporter got to play. They feel more like a video game with buttons and a joy stick where you shoot at fish, and collect points for killing the bigger fish.

"With eight people you play smart," Franzoy said. "More skilled people are going to do better."

He maintains this is not any different than an arcade, or being involved in fantasy sports, which Colorado lawmakers approved in 2016.

Still, all across the state, parlors like this have been raided. Regulators and law enforcement say the machines are simulating gambling.

"They went through and did a forensic analysis: tested the games, looked at how they operated internally and came to the conclusion that they are in fact a slot machine," said Peggi O'Keefe, Executice Director of the Colorado Gaming Association.

Slick Ricks in Delta was raided back in November in a joint investigation by the Colorado Bureau Of Investigations and Delta police. They took out several games and cash.

A CBI spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement that the investigation remains active.

Franzoy has been in the sporlight before as well.

After the Attorney General ruled the Internet cafes that sold intenret access to play computerized slot machines were illegal, several locations in our area were shut down in 2015. One of them, according to the Secretary of State's office, was registered to Charlie Chedda's.

"One of the guys had ran one out here where I bought equipment from him and took over his lease," Franzoy said. "Charlie Cheddar's has never run a sweepstakes competition here at all."

His Colorado Springs location was raided in 2016. A county judge in that case dismissed the charges, ruling that state laws being used to prosecute were "unconstitutionally vague".

That ruling has held up in district court, and is now being appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.

It's why several owners formed the Colorado Skill Games and Entertainment Association to protect them from what they say is unnecessary government overreach.

"There have been no arrests, certainly no convictions, and the government hasn't won in court," said Chris Howes, Executive Director of Colorado Skill Games and Entertainment Association. "The amount of collaboration between the government and law enforcement and the casinos is certainly alarming to us."

"Certainly if you have a joy stick and a button and a score at the end of the game, that's a game of skill," Howes added.

To that end, Franzoy said when he first opened, he invited the district attorney and police chief to show them his operation is on the up and up. He also had his games certified as 'games of skill' with the company that he said is the same agency the state casinos use.

In the end, the final battle will likely play out in court or in the capitol. A house bill is reportedly in the works that would clarify the law, and classify these skill game machines as illegal devices.

Either the law will end up in favor of establishments like this, or it could be game over.



 
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