Aug 8, 2023 - Politics

City Council votes to repeal Seattle's "fun tax"

Illustration of an old arcade game with three dollar signs on the screen

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It soon will become easier for Seattle bars and restaurants to add pinball machines, pool tables and arcade games.

What's happening: The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to get rid of the city's fees and license requirements for amusement devices. Those include everything from shuffleboard and billiards tables to jukeboxes and virtual reality games.

Why it matters: City officials hope axing the license fees allows more entertainment establishments to flourish in Seattle.

State of play: Right now, only a few dozen businesses apply for the licenses each year, according to city council staff.

  • 68 businesses applied in 2019; 46 applied in 2022.
  • "We are trying to attract more of these businesses to revitalize downtown and the general economy of the city post-COVID," Councilmember Andrew Lewis said at a committee meeting last month.
  • The licensing fees vary but can cost up to $1,500 per year, per amusement device.

What they're saying: Lewis, who sponsored the measure to repeal the fees, recently said the current licensing requirements and fees appear to serve no purpose except as a "tax on fun."

  • He called the regulations, which date to the 1970s, "a relic" of an earlier era when pinball and similar games were associated with "gambling and vice."
  • Some business owners in Seattle also said the fees and licensing requirements are a burden for them.

By the numbers: Repealing the fees will reduce the city's revenue by about $64,000 annually, according to city staff. While that's a small portion of the city's annual $1.6 billion general fund budget, it also doesn't help resolve the city's long-term projected budget shortfall.

What's next: Mayor Bruce Harrell, who has promoted adding entertainment options downtown as part of a broader recovery strategy, is expected to sign the measure. It will take effect 30 days after that.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Seattle.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Seattle stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Seattle.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more