LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska regulators can't ban a barroom video game that offers cash payouts despite allegations players are using the machine to illegally gamble, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday.
The ruling was a victory for the Nebraska-based companies that built and distributed Bank Shot. They sued the state after officials started confiscating the games.
To win Bank Shot, players must create a winning "tic-tac-toe" combination of like-colored pool balls in a three-by-three grid. The court said with modifications made by American Amusements Co., the video game is primarily a game of skill, not chance, and therefore can't be banned.
"To be successful at Bankshot — assuming success is defined as making money — a player must exert considerable patience while waiting for the 'winning' puzzles to appear," the court said in the 18-page opinion. The reconfigured game "is more controlled by the player than not, and thus it is predominantly a game of skill."
Phone calls to the companies, their lawyers and state officials weren't immediately returned.
As many 430 Bank Shot games were placed in 143 different Nebraska cities when it debuted in 2008, according to the ruling. Nebraska State Patrol troopers seized two of the consoles in early 2009 for testing to confirm that the games were skill-based. The tests showed the games in compliance with the law. State officials confiscated two more in September 2009, and the companies sued.
Bank Shot offers jackpots as high as $17,000. As of February 2010, the game had been played 65.6 million times and awarded 50 jackpot prizes.
The Omaha-based Greater American Distributing Co., which distributes the game, reprogrammed it shortly after a Lancaster County District Court judge declared some of the game settings illegal in 2010. Judge Steven Burns ruled that one of the three ways the game could be played was legal, because the outcome depended more on skill than change. Friday's ruling affirmed his decision.
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and state Sen. Tony Fulton of Lincoln introduced a proposal in 2010 to discourage such games by barring cash payouts and setting a $10 value limit on prizes awarded for each game play. Had it passed, the proposal would have put Bank Shot in the same league as recreational pizza-parlor games like Pop-A-Shot. Instead, the measure died in committee.
Critics say Bank Shot and similar games straddle a line between illegal games of chance and lawful games of skill. Game opponents say skilled programmers can blur the line with game designs that rely on both skill and chance.