SEASIDE HEIGHTS – Beachgoers were able to catch a special presentation on the Seaside Heights Boardwalk on July 17 at Franklin Avenue as Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Division of Consumer Affairs discussed the annual Operation Safe Summer 2018 program.
The program consists of boardwalk inspections to all establishments to make sure that retailers are operating stores and games safely and fairly. In order to promote a family-friendly environment, the Division of Consumer Affairs enforces game and price checks to keep business transparent and honest.
“Through their efforts, we are making sure that the few stores and amusement game operators who aren’t playing by the rules are held accountable so they don’t spoil the fun for everyone,” said Paul R. Rodríguez, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs.
Attorney General Grewal noted that the boardwalk is the quintessential place for summer, family-time fun. “The reason we do this every year is because the boardwalk, Seaside Heights, its iconic of our summers here in New Jersey…of family and friends getting together and trying to have a good time and establish memories,” he said.
The inspections encourage and maintain safety, transparency, and fairness in boardwalk retail, according to Grewal.
“As a father, I want to be able to lose those games based on my own abilities, or inabilities,” Grewal joked. “We don’t want anyone walking away from what should be an enjoyable trip feeling like they, or worse, their children, were taken advantage of by rigged games or deceptive sales practices.”
Not only does Operations Safe Summer 2018 focus on keeping boardwalk games fair to consumers, but it also investigates the way stores price their products and handle their return policies. Grewal said that part of the process is making sure that product prices and return policies are clearly labeled.
“We don’t want anyone’s experience to be ruined when you get to that cash register and you realize [a product]…is nearly twice as much as you thought it would be,” he explained.
Since the program began last month, the initial inspections have found 12 establishments in two seaside towns that have allegedly violated state consumer protection laws and regulations, according to the Attorney General’s office.
Investigators from the Division’s Legalized Games of Chance Control Commission (LGCCC) unit and its Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) visit the boardwalk to perform the inspections.
These investigators are looking for violations in the gameplay such as a prize that is too heavy for the crane machine to pick up, a game that makes it impossible to win the top prize, or an incorrectly labeled prize.
So far, out of 8 arcades and 27 individual amusement games, investigators found 5 locations with alleged violations like these.
From the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, investigators took to the boardwalk to check the retail stores. Of 25 stores already inspected, the OCPO investigators found 7 with alleged violations. Violations in retail can be anything from an unmarked or not clearly marked item to the lack of a visible refund policy.
“In addition to inspecting for consumer protection violations, investigators also check for sales of prohibited items, such as novelty lighters, and test toys and prizes for excessive levels of lead. The Division also hands out educational materials to consumers to empower them as their own best advocates against fraud and deceit in the marketplace,” according to the Attorney General’s office.
Rodriguez added that the division is only about halfway through total inspections right now.
Following a brief presentation on the program with some statistics, officials took it upon themselves to test the games for transparency.
They first stopped at a game that requires you to hit a bottle with a baseball for a prize. Rodriguez successfully smashed a bottle on his first throw, to which Grewal joked, “It can’t be rigged.”
Officials also measured the distance from the boardwalk to the target of the game. Using a tape measure, they found it met the required 22 feet.
The group then moved on to the crane machine games inside Lucky Leo’s arcade where Joseph Chessere, an investigator with the LGCCC, discussed how the investigators go about checking the machine for violations.
Chessere explained that they first need to verify that the game can be won, and then they open the machine up and take a look at how it works. He demonstrated this on a machine that offers up small bags with hidden coin credits inside.
Chessere tested the crane’s ability to pick up the bag, and then verified that it actually contained the correct amount.
“If it’s not there, that’s a violation,” he said. “Its fraudulent deceptive practice.”
Investigators also open up the machine to see the mechanics inside and make sure that they are NJ certified, which is a requirement.
Officials then gave the football game a whirl, where they again measured the distance and Gurbir and Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato tossed the ball hoping to hit the target. Neither made it, but at least they determined that the game was not rigged.
Operation Safe Summer began back in 2014 and has since issued 183 citations for one or more violations of amusement games licenses on the boardwalk. Game operators can be fined for violations, up to $500.