The state Gambling Commission reversed course Thursday by cracking down on game machines that have multiplied in recent months at bars and card rooms in Washington.
The commission stopped short of a ban — while keeping that option on the table — but voted to forbid bars from giving gift cards as prizes. Gift cards can be redeemed for food, alcohol and other games and some bars give customers change in cash.
“That absolutely is not what we intended,” Chris Stearns, chairman of the commission.
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Stearns said the rules now specifically allow food and nonalcoholic beverages among the merchandise that can be given as prizes.
The commission also restricted prize tickets from being used to replay the machines, and restricted the numbers of the machines at each 21-and-older establishment where they are allowed.
Distributors of the machines opposed the changes and say expansive permission for merchandise prizes will help sometimes-struggling bars persuade customers to stay and return. One industry group has filed a $15 million claim against the state that could be prelude to a lawsuit.