In December, the Westford Board of Selectmen approved new devices on tables at Chili’s under an obscure state law. On Tuesday, they renewed discussion on that law due to a potential fee Chili’s might have to pay.
The law says that towns are responsible for licenses for businesses that own any coin operated “automatic amusement devices” such as pinball machines or arcade video games.
Fees from those licenses go toward state agencies that help consumers whenever they have a problem with the games or other amusement related issues.
Gary Sachs of Pepper Dining Inc., the franchising company that operates Westford’s Chili’s location, argued that while the devices did offer games and other content patrons could purchase for $1.99, the main purpose of the devices was to facilitate service through digital menus, meal bill payment, and customer feedback surveys.
According to Sachs, only about five percent of patrons at Massachusetts Chili’s locations use the “premium” content, which includes games and online versions of USA Today, and that patrons could access other uses of the table top devices for free.
Although coins are not part of the device, the Selectmen generally seemed to believe that the intent of the law applied to the electronic payments taken by the devices.
Selectman Kelly Ross noted that if Pepper Dining decided to allow patrons to use the games for free, the $50 license for each device would not be necessary.
The matter of fairness also arose since Kimball Farm and Nashoba Valley Ski Area pay the town for licenses used on their games.
However, outgoing Selectman Jim Sullivan believed that the comparisons elsewhere were different since those machines were purely used for “automatic amusement” purposes while Chili’s devices had practical applications alongside their gaming uses.
Sachs told the board that Ziosk, the company that produces the devices, actually leases them out to Pepper Dining, and that the money from the games pays for those leases.
He also noted that if fees were levied on the 50 devices in the Westford Chili’s, it would be approximately equivalent to the amount the restaurant currently collects from the devices.
The board voted 4-1 to approve the license fee for the devices as long as patrons have to pay for the licenses on any devices that have the premium content in the restaurant.
Sachs noted that he would return to Pepper Dining’s headquarters in North Carolina to relay this news and await a further decision on what to do with the devices.
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