Governor Signs Bill Protecting Boardwalk Arcades

OCEAN CITY — Bringing closure to a long-debated and often fiercely battled issue, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan last week signed into a law a bill that protects previously- threatened traditional Boardwalk arcades and other family-owned entertainment centers in the resort.

In 2012, state lawmakers passed legislation putting coin-operated amusement equipment under the auspices of the Maryland Lottery. Essentially, the Lottery and Gaming Control Agency proposed new regulations that would apply fees and other regulatory requirements on certain Boardwalk-style arcade games that issue prizes of a certain cash value. The proposed regulations would target arcade games such as claw machines, for example, that offer players a chance to win iPods and other prizes that have a wholesale value of over $30.

The proposed regulations would not target skee ball and other games that issue tickets that are accumulated for the chance to win larger prizes when certain point values are reached. The regulations, if approved, would apply to the defined machines statewide, although their impact would most acutely be felt on the Boardwalk in Ocean City with its historic arcade games enjoyed by families for generations.

A variety of different regulations were offered as a result of that 2012 bill, which was deemed adverse to the iconic amusement arcade industry so central to the Ocean City Boardwalk. As time went on, the arcade industry in Ocean City was under constant threat over what types of equipment could be operated, which was an unintended side effect of the bill that never meant to target the traditional family-run Boardwalk arcades.

To that end, local lawmakers implored the Maryland Lottery to reverse the onerous fees and regulations placed on the Boardwalk arcades. In fact, Hogan himself visited the Boardwalk in a 2014 campaign stop and told business owners he would not hurt them with the larger issue of regulating certain amusement machines and the associated fees. However, it took legislation sponsored by Senator Jim Mathias (D-38), who represents Ocean City, Worcester County and a large swath of the lower shore, to get an exemption from the new regulations for the traditional Boardwalk arcades.

Senate Bill 941 this year passed the Senate by a unanimous 46-0 vote and then breezed through the House by a unanimous 137-0 vote. Last week, Hogan signed the bill into law during a special signing ceremony in Annapolis, bringing closure to the oft-contentious issue.

“I was able to stop prohibitive regulations while searching for the right legislation to protect these arcades and this legacy industry in our family resort,” Mathias said this week. “This bill accomplishes that by making certain types of equipment and prize valuations legal only in family entertainment centers located on our Ocean City Boardwalk.”

Meanwhile, Hogan signed a second bill sponsored by Mathias during the same ceremony last week. Senate Bill 726 represents an effort to ease access to financing for clean energy projects for citizens and developers. The bill aims to attract a greater percentage of private-sector capital to provide access to financing for energy improvement by leveraging public funds to attract the financial community into the market. The Maryland Clean Energy Center (MCEC) praised Mathias for his work on behalf of the legislation.

“We applaud Senator Mathias’ leadership and vision in understanding the need to advance clean energy solutions in Maryland,” said MCEC Executive Director Katherine Magruder. “He understands there is a need for investment by consumers and business owners as well as public entities.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.