Revised amusement device regulations proposed

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published April 26, 2017


While it wasn’t all fun and games, the Sterling Heights City Council recently took the first step toward modifying its amusement device regulations.

At an April 18 City Council meeting, the seven members unanimously introduced changes to Sterling Heights’ city code pertaining to amusement devices and introduced modifications to related sections in the zoning ordinance. This does not mean that the changes are officially adopted yet — a vote to consider final approval is set to occur at a May council meeting, officials said.

Assistant City Attorney Don DeNault Jr. explained that “amusement devices” is a rather antiquated term, and such devices have evolved considerably since their origins in the early 20th-century penny arcades. The term includes pinball machines, Skee-Ball machines, air hockey machines and video games — and the proposed regulation modifications account for evolutions in electronic and video gaming, as well as how amusement devices are used in contemporary times, he explained.

“When video games themselves became a big deal in the late ’70s and early ’80s, every community in the state and throughout the country started adopting ordinances because they were very, very worried that the youth of America would be corrupted by congregating in these establishments, and that included pinball as well,” DeNault said.

He said that while video games have trended toward home consoles since then, some establishments, such as JoeG’s Game Center at Lakeside Mall, set up multiple such devices to entertain kids in a group setting.

The changes would modernize and streamline licensing, such as making a license last two years instead of one. The regulations take into account unsupervised minors, hours of operation and more, DeNault said. He estimated that approximately 44 amusement device-related licenses are issued in the community right now.

“We’ve also created a more flexible revocation review,” he said, adding, “I’m not aware of any in my 20-plus years where we’ve had to revoke an amusement device license, but nevertheless, we made it a little cleaner and I think a little easier for the administration to exercise that.”

DeNault said establishments that have amusement devices commonly include large retail centers, bowling alleys, movie theaters, bars and restaurants. The regulation revision proposal would clarify that an establishment with fewer than 15 amusement devices in a location of less than 45,000 square feet is not an amusement device center. Amusement device centers need to go through the special approval land use process.

Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Ziarko asked whether the city had reached out to local license holders about the proposal.

“Certainly we want this to be easier for us, but easier for them too,” she said.

DeNault said the city did some field research and consulted with an attorney who represents the amusement device industry.

Mayor Michael Taylor asked whether any big complaints prompted the need to change the ordinance, and he was told by officials that it was mainly a matter of industry inquiries and modernization.

“So the purpose here is really to condense it, make it easier for the applicants, make it easier for the license holders, reduce the fees as well,” Taylor said.

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