Montgomery County Council members, zapping the county's slumping video game market, yesterday approved new regulations that will require arcade owners to buy $50 licenses for every electronic plaything.
Council members, who also voted to increase county parking fines by as much as $10, said that the higher fines and video license fees could raise as much as $1 million annually for the county government.
Under the new licensing regulations, owners of video games available to the public must register each machine and buy individual licenses for each machine. Arcade owners, including the growing number who operate arcades in buses and vans, also would pay $50 fees to register their places of business.
The $50 license and registration fees were set by County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist and will take effect in 90 days.
The video game law was passed by a vote of 5 to 0, with council member Esther Gelman abstaining and Scott Fosler absent.
Although representatives of the local video game industry had been consulted during the drafting of the legislation, some in the video game business complained yesterday that the new fees were too high.
"I'm dumbfounded by the $50 cost," said Alan Fluke, manager of Putt-Putt Golf and Games in Rockville, a 40-game arcade that is one of Montgomery's largest.
"This is totally ridiculous," he added. "All over the country, government is going after the video operator, and this is just one more example of that."
Fluke said that the fees were especially "outrageous" to arcade owners who now are required to pay an amusement tax of at least 7 percent of their gross receipts to the county or their city governments.
Two council members who voted for the game fees also suggested that the fees might be too high.
"Fifty dollars per machine is too much, too high," said Rose Crenca. "The heyday of video games is over."
Member William E. Hanna Jr., referring to the current slump in video game arcades, said that the stiff fees would be "beating, not a dead horse, but a lame horse."
With an estimated 1,800 games and 200 game arcades in Montgomery, the government should raise at least $100,000 annually through the game fees, officials said. Moreover, the new regulations will force owners to register thousands of unlicensed games, which could produce at least $300,000 yearly in amusement taxes, officials said.
Similarly, the $5 and $10 parking fine increases also should fatten the government's purse.
A spokesman for Gilchrist estimated that the higher parking fines, which are expected to take effect within a few days, would increase revenues by $750,000, even with an expected drop in the number of parking violations.
Fines for traffic and safety hazards, such as parking in a right of way during a snow emergency, were raised by $10 to as much as $25, as was the $15 fine for parking in places reserved for handicapped motorists, which was raised to $25.
All other fines were increased by $5.