Georgia’s lack of traditional gambling infrastructure outside of the Georgia Lottery is a reality for those who live here.
But that doesn’t mean that creative, legal alternatives don’t exist. Filling the gambling gap in the marketplace for Georgia are COAMs, or Coin Operated Amusement Machines.
They’re not slots, you can’t redeem your winnings in cash prizes, and no fancy alarm bells or light show will herald your win. But they’re incredibly popular with Georgians.
So popular that they generated $3 billion in revenue during the 2020 fiscal year. That actually represents a higher revenue return than the Georgia Lottery. While the lottery is of course more widely popular, massive player payouts cut into their annual returns.
Georgia COAMs don’t pay out cash winnings, which helps the state’s year-end margin. At the end of the day, states and businesses netted $900 million in 2020.
What is a COAM, exactly?
So the reason you’re here: What is a COAM? There are two classes — Class A and Class B.
Class A COAMs are Georgia’s version of the familiar bar or arcade game.
They are licensed by an establishment through the state and operated with … coins. Think of your coin-operated pool table at your local watering hole, a pinball machine at your favorite burger joint, or a jukebox where you can ruin the mood with the worst selections you can find.
Class B COAMs are games of skill that allow the player to accrue and transfer points to other machines, or redeem with the Georgia Lottery in the form of a ticket purchase.
A Class B COAM is kind of like the adult version of the tickets you receive at an arcade. They’re not worth anything but might net you a stuffed giraffe or a pack of baseball cards if you’re a skeeball ace.
With Class B COAMs, you can also utilize your winnings at the gas pump, which is especially helpful at the moment.
While Georgia attempts to simply define and differentiate Class A and B COAMs with a nifty graphic on The Georgia Lottery website, the regulatory language goes a bit further, in an amusing fashion.
No, the washers and dryers at the laundromat are not considered Coin Operated Amusement Machines in the eyes of the state. Neither is a payphone, should you find one.
So why are COAMs so popular in Georgia?
Judging by the annual revenues they generate, it’s safe to say that Georgians are big fans of COAMs. That’s explained easily enough: Folks enjoy games, even the kinds that don’t provide a dopamine boost with a cash payout.
If you’ve been to any sports bar, the standard layout is familiar — pool, darts, shuffleboard. The State of Georgia and The Georgia Lottery Corporation zeroed in on the demand and availability of these games.
And furthermore, placed them under the regulatory and administrative purview of the government. Class A COAMs are so popular because games like pool, darts, and shuffleboard remain popular.
When you look at the popularity of Class B COAMs, you’re moving into gambling territory a bit more. Class B COAMs are similar to the sorts of touch machine games you would find on any bartop, and while they don’t result in cash winnings, the player can still come away with something of value.
Those touch machine games are a staple in taverns and pubs, and the State of Georgia added a winning component in the form of additional game redemption or vouchers for gas or lottery tickets.
The winnings are quasi-monetized, like a raffle, to remain within the lines of state law, but also scratch the itch that exists from the lack of established legal gambling in GA. Except for the lottery, of course.
The state legislature launched a pilot program in 2020 to issue gift cards to Class B COAM winners. This program was approved by the House in the recent legislative session. It’s not cash, but Georgians may soon receive redeemable gift cards for their scores on Class B COAMS.
It’s yet another move forward for a state with a complex history toward gambling and deciding where it wants to stand in regards to legalization.
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