Amusement operators in Minnesota — providers of games, jukeboxes and ATMs to restaurant and bars — are the latest group to challenge in court the business restrictions put in place by Gov. Tim Walz during the pandemic.
The Minnesota Operators of Music & Amusement Association, or MOMA, and a handful of other businesses filed a lawsuit Thursday against Walz and several of his commissioners arguing that the 11 p.m. curfew and other constraints on bars and restaurants are unconstitutional. The lawsuit notes that other establishments, such as retail stores, aren't subject to the same restrictions.
The association represents about 25 family-run businesses, which employ an estimated 700 people in the state. They depend on restaurants and bars being open because they split revenue from the games that are placed in them.
Other groups, ranging from churches to youth sports advocates to other businesses, have sued Walz over his executive orders that have mandated wearing masks and placed restrictions on certain activities and businesses during the pandemic.
None have succeeded in overturning Walz's orders.
In St. Paul, the Republican-controlled Senate passed a bill Thursday that also challenged Walz's power over businesses. It would allow businesses to create and implement their own safety plans so they can fully operate during the pandemic.
A companion bill is likely to face obstacles in the Democratic-controlled House.
Dan Lieberman, a MOMA board member and president of Bloomington-based American Amusement Arcades, acknowledged that it's difficult to challenge the governor's executive powers.
"But we felt we had a good case," he said. "We're kind of at the end of our rope here in terms of options."
Lieberman said the lawsuit was a last resort after unsuccessfully trying to engage with state leaders.
"Our member businesses have been closed for five of the last 12 months, with very little revenue coming in for almost half of the year," he said at a news conference held at Park Tavern in St. Louis Park. "Unlike other industries, MOMA members can't do takeout, delivery or sell our products online."
Teddy Tschann, a spokesman for Walz, said the governor appreciates the "incredibly challenging position" these businesses are facing.
"That's why he's focused on getting Minnesotans vaccinated as quickly as possible so everyone can get back to business as usual," he said in a statement.
MOMA estimates that about 30% of the jobs in its industry have been lost during the pandemic.
"We really need leadership from the state to develop a path for reopening," said Lieberman. "Other states have done it. Why can't we?"
He noted that Ohio's governor said he would lift a curfew on bars once COVID-19 hospitalizations fell below a certain level, a threshold it met a couple of weeks ago.
Other groups that represent the hospitality industry as well as some Republican legislators have also been pushing Walz to provide a framework for fully reopening the state's economy as the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been trending downward.
Bob Thomas, owner of Minnesota Pastime, which operates along the Iron Range, said that business has picked up a bit, but not enough, since Walz extended the curfew at bars and restaurants by an hour to 11 p.m. earlier this month. Now, he's losing 20% of his typical revenue compared with 30% when the curfew was at 10 p.m., he said.
"It needs to be opened up," he said, adding that COVID-19 cases and deaths are declining.
Kavita Kumar • 612-673-4113 Twitter: @kavitakumar