Slot-machine-like gaming machines are subject to gambling law, Iowa Supreme Court rules

By: Rox Laird on October 17th, 2018

Video games resembling slot machines that award prizes will not be showing up in laundromats or convenience stores anytime soon, as a result of an Oct. 12 ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court in Banilla Games v. Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.

The Court, in a unanimous decision written by Justice David Wiggins, upheld a decision by the Polk County District Court affirming the State’s interpretation of the gambling statute that Banilla’s video gaming machines must be registered with the department as gambling devices.

Banilla Games, a North Carolina company, manufactures and sells electronic games that resemble touch-screen slot machines. Players purchase credits, with one cent equaling one credit, and are challenged to match or complete sets of images on the screen. Winners receive a ticket or voucher worth up to $50 that can be redeemed for merchandise within the commercial establishment where the game is played.


Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in five cases Oct. 16 and 17

By: Rox Laird on October 12th, 2018

The Iowa Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in five cases Oct. 16 and 17, and nine cases will be submitted to the court without oral argument. Following are summaries of the October cases. [Go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page to read the briefs filed with the Court in these cases.]

State v. Gordon

Scheduled for argument Oct. 16, 9 a.m.

The State appeals a ruling of the Iowa Court of Appeals ordering that Sean David Gordon be resentenced because the Floyd County District Court relied on results of sex-offender risk-assessment instruments not specifically authorized by statute or rule in sentencing him to up to 10 years prison for statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl.

Gordon argues the sentencing court violated his constitutional due-process rights by using statistical tools to assess his potential to reoffend. The Court of Appeals declined to reach the constitutional question, ruling instead that the trial court erred because no state statute or rule authorizes the use of the risk-assessment instruments in deciding whether to sentence a sex offender to prison or some other type of supervision.

The Court of Appeals, hearing the case en banc, was split 5-4 and produced two separate dissenting opinions. The appeals court noted that some critics, including other state courts, have questioned the validity of assessing recidivism risk based on group data as opposed to data specific to high-risk offenders. The Iowa Supreme Court has not yet weighed in on the issue, and this case and two others to be submitted on Oct. 16, will be an opportunity to do so.


Iowa Supreme Court heads to Red Oak to hear arguments on whether a jury was swayed by social media

By: Rox Laird on October 5th, 2018

The Iowa Supreme Court goes on the road on Oct. 9 to hear oral arguments in Red Oak in a case that deals with the effect of social media on jurors in criminal trials. The argument is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Wilson Performing Arts Center.

The Court will hear arguments in State v. Christensen. In this appeal, the State seeks further review of a ruling of the Iowa Court of Appeals, which ordered a new trial on the basis of juror misconduct.


U.S. Supreme Court rejects appeal from an Iowa surrogate mother seeking custody of the child

By: Rox Laird on October 3rd, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal of an Iowa Supreme Court ruling on the enforceability of a contract signed by a woman who acted as a surrogate mother for an Iowa couple unable to conceive a child of their own.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Feb. 16 that the contract was valid, that the surrogate mother and her husband are not the child’s genetic parents and that the District Court correctly awarded custody of the child to the biological father.


U.S. Supreme Court to consider an appeal from an Iowa surrogate mother seeking custody of the child

By: Rox Laird on September 20th, 2018

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to consider whether to accept the appeal of an Iowa Supreme Court ruling on the enforceability of a contract signed by a woman who acted as a surrogate mother for an Iowa couple unable to conceive a child of their own.

The surrogate mother, identified as T.B. in court documents, was impregnated with embryos fertilized with the intended biological father’s sperm and ova from an anonymous donor. She changed her mind after the child was born, and sued the Cedar Rapids couple in Linn County District Court, arguing that the surrogacy contract was unconstitutional and that her parental rights should not have been terminated.


The 2017-18 term marked the end of an era for the Iowa Supreme Court

By: Rox Laird on September 19th, 2018

The Iowa Supreme Court’s 2018-19 term that began Sept. 4 marks the first change in court personnel in nearly a decade, with the retirement of Justice Bruce Zager and the appointment of former District Judge Susan Christensen to take his place.

The Court’s 2017-18 term was the final chapter of the era that began after the removal by voters of three justices, the appointment of Zager, Edward Mansfield and Thomas Waterman to replace them, and the elevation of Mark Cady to Chief Justice.

In the term that ended in June, the Court decided 102 cases, although three additional cases were resubmitted for consideration this term, and one case was dismissed.

The largest percentage of cases (44 percent) the Court heard were further review of Court of Appeals decisions, and 36 percent were direct appeals from the District Courts.

The Supreme Court reversed the trial courts in 45 percent of the cases heard on appeal, and affirmed in 37 percent, with 15 percent yielding in mixed results (i.e., partially affirmed, partially reversed).

The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals in 64 percent of the cases and affirmed the lower court in 25 percent of the cases. That reversal rate is not surprising, since the Supreme Court typically accepts appeals of only a small fraction of the 1,200 cases decided by the Court of Appeals each year, and the justices accept appeals on further review only in those cases where they believe reconsideration is warranted.


Iowa Supreme Court to hear oral argument at Johnston High School Monday night, and at the Judicial Branch Building Tuesday

By: Rox Laird on September 14th, 2018

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral arguments at 7 p.m. Sept. 17 at Johnston High School in a drunk-driving appeal that raises constitutional issues. The justices will be back at the Judicial Branch Building Tuesday to hear arguments in three cases on Sept. 18. A fourth case will be submitted to the Court that day without oral argument. Following are brief summaries of those cases (go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page for links to briefs).


Eight oral arguments on tap for the Iowa Supreme Court this week

By: Rox Laird on September 11th, 2018

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in eight cases Wednesday and Thursday, and six cases will be submitted to the Court without oral argument. Following are brief summaries of the cases.


Question to be argued before the Iowa Supreme Court: Games of skill or chance?

By: Rox Laird on September 6th, 2018

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments Friday in Iowa City in a case that could determine whether gaming devices that resemble slot machines could be placed in Iowa businesses other than bars.

The Court will hear oral arguments at 10:30 a.m. Friday in Banilla Games Inc. v. Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals at the Levitt Auditorium at the University of Iowa College of Law. The case presents a question of interpreting the gaming statute on which the Court has not ruled before.

Banilla Games, a North Carolina company, manufactures and sells electronic games that resemble touch-screen slot machines. Players purchase credits, with one cent equaling one credit, and are challenged to match or complete sets of images on the screen. Winners receive a ticket or voucher worth up to $50 that can be redeemed for merchandise within the commercial establishment where the game is played.

At issue is whether Banilla’s Superior Skill game machines must be registered with the State under the gambling regulations in Iowa Code Chapter 99B. Gaming devices that require registration are limited by the statute to businesses holding liquor licenses, whereas non-registered devices can be placed in other locations, such as convenience stores.

The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals ruled that Banilla’s Superior Skill machines are subject to the registration requirement, and the agency’s ruling was upheld in a July 2017 decision by Polk County District Judge Mary Pat Gunderson.

Banilla argues in its appeal of the District Court decision that its machines are games of skill, not chance, and thus do not have to be registered.


Eighth Circuit rules ‘In God We Trust’ on U.S. currency is constitutional

By: Rox Laird on September 4th, 2018

The motto “In God We Trust” has been printed on U.S. currency since the Civil War, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit confronted the question of whether it violates the Constitution for the first time in an Aug. 28 ruling.

The answer? The motto does not violate the Constitution.

A three-judge panel of the St. Louis-based court, which has jurisdiction over Iowa and six other Midwest states, rejected arguments raised in an appeal of a Minnesota District Court decision by 27 atheists or children of atheists and two atheist organizations.

The plaintiffs argued that government-issued bills and coins bearing a “purely religious” message amount to an explicit endorsement of Christianity and monotheism. They contend that violates the Establishment Clause, the Free Speech Clause and the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment, equal protection under the Fifth Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Each of these claims was rejected by the panel – consisting of Judges Raymond Gruender of St. Louis, Arlen Beam of Lincoln, and Jane Kelly of Cedar Rapids. Kelly, however, filed a separate opinion concurring with the judgment, but she disagreed with the majority’s discussion of the Establishment Clause question.

Writing for the majority, Gruender pointed out that the other federal circuit appeals courts that have considered this question have held that the motto does not violate the Establishment Clause, and the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly said as much (although in dicta, or passing references in related cases).


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On Brief is devoted to appellate litigation, with a focus on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.



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