COAMs — Coin Operated Amusement Machines — are big business in Georgia.
They generate billions in annual revenue and provide a bit of a bridge to the world of legal gambling.
There’s no monetary payout, there’s no casino cage nor machine to exchange chips and tickets for cash. COAMs in Georgia are strictly for amusement.
The Class B types generate non-cash redemptions in the form of tickets with the Georgia Lottery or gas cards as the result of winning a game of skill.
The state legislature also just approved a measure for Class B COAM winners to be issued gift cards, which is another slight move forward for a notoriously gambling-resistant state.
So what kickstarted the COAM craze in the Peach State? Well, like everything else involving gambling or gambling-adjacent, the story starts with the Georgia Lottery.
Georgia’s path forward for expanded gambling
Let’s ignore Class A COAMs for this article. Those types of COAMs are your standard amusement fare:
- Pool tables
- Claw machines
While great, they don’t provide a potential roadmap for legalized gambling in Georgia.
Class B COAMs present the most linear path forward for a state with gambling on the brain. By offering winnings in games of skill, Class B COAMs are another tip-toe in the direction of loosening the gambling laws in Georgia. It also gives you an indication of whether COAMs quell gambling thirst in Georgia.
And you know the Georgia Lottery is involved. It’s the legal administrator and regulator of COAMs in the state.
COAMs were legally established in the state in April 2013.
That’s when the Georgia Lottery Corporation was given statutory approval to issue COAM operator licenses to vendors. Business owners would then compile the appropriate paperwork and funds to acquire licensure to host COAMs in their shops, restaurants, or bars.
Licensing fees differ from Class A and Class B COAMs. Class B COAMs generate the most revenue, by far. A base fee for a Class B COAM license in Georgia is $5,000 annually. Whereas Class A COAMs start at $500.
In the 2022 licensing year, 70 different businesses have forked over $5,000 in fees to operate a Class B COAM on their premises. That’s an easy $350K in paperwork revenue for a state still balking at the possibility of sports gambling — or any gambling, for that matter.
Well, aside from the lottery.
Class B COAMs aren’t slots?
While Class B COAMs aren’t slot machines by any stretch of the imagination, you could consider them estranged cousins of sorts.
There are skill-based slot machines. But most slots involve yanking the lever down and hoping the universe looks kindly on your choice of machine.
Class B COAMs are strictly skills-based. So when you win something, it required some level of decision-making and conscious effort to do so.
There’s no hint that the state has any inclination to move further than COAMs, but with the approval of gift cards for COAM wins, GA is inching ever closer to getting Class B COAMs acquainted with the slots in their lineage.
That gift card pilot program was initially launched and approved in the legislature in large part due to the rise in illegal cash payouts at establishments hosting Class B COAMs.
The state has essentially thrown gift card cash at that problem to quell it.
But the motivations behind the issue are clear: There’s money to be made all-around on COAMs. And the appetite for legal gambling avenues in Georgia is not going away any time soon.
Photo by Shutterstock