Supreme Court pulls plug on gas station gambling machines

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court chambers. (Photo: Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Jeremy Hahn’s idea seemed too dumb to work out, even it was legal.

The West Bend man started a company called Quick Charge Kiosk that modified video gambling machines to provide charging for cell phones and put them in gas stations and convenience stores around the state.

The kiosks were called, Pow’r Up. You could get one minute of charging, for $1.

But the machines also gave you credits to play a video game, at which you had a chance to win more than $100. The machines reportedly paid out around 65% of the money spent on them by customers.

The Attorney General quickly deemed the kiosks illegal gambling machines, and seized many of them. Hahn sued, arguing the machines were more akin to winning a free soda if your pack of french fries had a random special prize sticker attached.

Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Brian Hagedorn credited Hahn for a creative approach that nonetheless failed to pay off.

Hahn argued that the operation of his phone-charging kiosks was akin to in “in-pack chance promotion,” which is exception to the state law against illegal lotteries and allows promotions like McDonald’s once-popular Monopoly game.

But as Hagedorn points out, the kiosks are not lotteries, but machines which more clearly and logically addressed by the statute regarding gambling machines — which has no exception for “in-pack chance promotions.”

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There is clearly “consideration,” involved, Hagedorn notes, because a person pays a dollar for video game credits, then risks them playing the game for the chance to win bigger prize, basically, paying for the opportunity to obtain something of value, by chance.

In theory, someone could write to Quick Charge and get a certificate good for $1 at the store allow them to play the gave for free, or ask a Quick Charge employee to play $1 on the person’s behalf and mail them any winnings, “Although neither has ever been used,” Hagedorn notes.

Actually, a WITI-TV, Channel 6 reporter once did write in for a certificate, as part of an investigation into the machines.

“Free play option or not, Quick Charge’s argument does not overcome the reality that its kiosks can be used as gambling machines,” he concluded. The court affirmed the Court of Appeals, which had affirmed retired Milwaukee Circuit Judge John DiMotto’s original decision to grant summary judgment to the state in Hahn’s lawsuit.

Contact Bruce Vielmetti at (414) 224-2187 or bvielmetti@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ProofHearsay.

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Read or Share this story: https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/2020/06/12/supreme-court-pulls-plug-gas-station-gambling-machines/3176058001/


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