Community weighs in on gaming arcade debate

Tieran Lewis

The Kent Planning Commission has approved plans for a new gaming arcade at University Plaza.

According to the commission’s May 15 meeting minutes, Wild Cherries Gaming, a Cleveland-owned business, plans to operate 20 to 30 skilled gaming machines for patrons 18 years old and older.

Bill Anderson, Kent Planning Commission member, said the machines look similar to casino slot machines and believes they are for gambling.

“I don’t think it’s a game of skill,” he said. “A game of skill is where you can hit a ball and miss it – it’s something you can control.”

According to Ohio state law, skilled games are defined as mechanical, electronic, video or digital devices or machines in which the player is an active participant, and the outcome of the game is not entirely based on chance.

Anderson said Wild Cherries Gaming owner Erika Kleinfeld demonstrated how the machines operate at the commission’s May 15 meeting.

According to the meeting minutes, Kleinfeld, who could not be reached for comment, said the player has to start the machine before it begins to spin.

Anderson said the machine spins similar to the barrels of a casino slot machine. The player stops the machine from spinning by touching the screen or pushing a button.

Kleinfeld said the skill involves the player determining which way to line up a row of characters in order to win.

Anderson disagrees. “Gambling is gambling,” he said. “Even if you understand how to do it, you still can’t control it completely.”

Some residents are unsure how the gaming arcade will affect the Kent community.

“I would say open it and see how it goes,” said Candice Johnson of Rhodes Road. “But if it turns for the worse, I say shut it down.”

Others are not pleased to see such establishments in suburban areas.

“It’s disappointing to see that it’s filtered into the city,” said Rich Gonnis of Franklin Township. “It’s one thing to go to Las Vegas or West Virginia to gamble, but doing it in the suburbs is different.”

Ward 3 Councilman Wayne Wilson said he has not seen a negative or positive effect from the existing skilled gaming sites on East Main Street in Franklin Township.

“From looking at the ones out there and seeing nobody at them, I just don’t understand how they make any money anyway,” he said.

Anderson said he is concerned the community will go “downhill” and the business will take advantage of low-income residents.

“It’s down in the part of Kent where the income is very low and a lot of the people there are unemployed, so they’ll go down there and play these games hoping to win,” he said.

Gonnis agrees.

“Sometimes you see someone hoping to hit 10 grand to get out of debt and try to do it again and again,” he said. “People resort to desperate measures at times to get themselves back on their feet, and it spins out of control.”

Gaming businesses are permitted in Kent because an ordinance was passed that allowed for “amusement arcades.”

The ordinance requires skilled gaming businesses to purchase a $1,000 permit each year of operation and pay a fee of $100 per machine per month.

“We felt that if that kind of business wanted to come into town there should be a cost to it,” Wilson said. “We want to kind of control what they’re doing as much as we legally can.”

Even with the planning commission’s approval of the site plan, Wild Cherries Gaming will not be able to open until the Ohio attorney general determines whether the games are considered skilled or gambling.

Contact general assignment reporter Tieran Lewis at [email protected].