SF set to relax restrictions on arcade machines 

click to enlarge The Board of Supervisors will vote today on an amended ordinance that would eliminate restrictions on the number of arcade games a San Francisco business can have based on its square footage. - MIKE KOOZMIN/S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • mike koozmin/s.f. examiner file photo
  • The Board of Supervisors will vote today on an amended ordinance that would eliminate restrictions on the number of arcade games a San Francisco business can have based on its square footage.

Pinball enthusiasts have apparently scored in a push to revise San Francisco's arcade gaming laws dating back to the 1980s that have deterred some business owners from installing the machines.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to approve legislation today that would change The City's arcade gaming laws that restrict the number of machines based on issues such as a business' square footage or distance from schools, and require permits from the Entertainment Commission.

The rallying cry for the amended law was the plight of Free Gold Watch, a silk-screen print shop at 1767 Waller St. that opened in May 2007. Over time, business owner Matthew Henri added about 30 arcade machines after a few had become popular at the Upper Haight business. But Henri had discovered his operation was running afoul of the law, which does not allow more than 10 arcade machines per location and sets the exact amount based on a business' square footage.

It turned out that Henri wasn't alone in his battle with the law, as others had expressed interest in arcade machines as business complements, including a proposed arcade-themed Castro bar.

The popularity in San Francisco for arcade-style games of the 1980s may have something to do with how The City has a booming technology industry. But enthusiasts also note the games create a community that cuts through economic classes.

"Pinball is one of the few, affordable, casual, low-commitment social recreation opportunities in the city," wrote Eric Raymond, an Upper Haight resident in support of Free Gold Watch.

"Whether you're a tech executive catching the Google Bus just up Stanyan or a homeless kid bumming change on Haight, two quarters grants you equal access to a little entertainment and conversation."

Raymond was one of numerous supporters of the business who called on city officials to support the law change. Some noted that a pinball league has formed at the shop attracting up to 70 people. The 30-year-old city laws seems to take aim at gaming impacts on youth and disruptions that arcade locations might cause in neighborhoods such as crime. But the world of gaming has changed dramatically since then, as much of the craze has migrated to mobile devices like smartphones and arcade machines have become relics.

On Monday, the board's Land Use and Economic Committee approved the amended legislation that was introduced by Supervisor London Breed, who represents the neighborhood where Henri's business is located.

Among the primary revisions, the legislation eliminates the square footage requirement and allows non-bar businesses to operate 10 machines before needing to obtain a permit. Permits cost $740 with an annual $316 fee. The initial proposal required bars to receive a permit for two or more machines, but that was amended Monday to five or more machines.

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