By IVAN MORENO
MILWAUKEE (AP) — A California gaming company sued Milwaukee County on Friday over its requirement that developers get a permit to have augmented-reality games like “Pokemon Go” played at its parks.
Irvine-based Candy Lab Inc. asks in a federal lawsuit for the ordinance to be declared unconstitutional on free-speech grounds and for the court to prohibit Milwaukee County from ever enforcing the law.
A spokeswoman for Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, who signed the ordinance, said he can’t comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Wisconsin is one of the first tests for how far state and local governments can go in trying to regulate virtual games.
Candy Lab is developing an augmented-reality game called “Texas Rope ‘Em,” a variation of Texas Hold ‘Em, currently being tested in Milwaukee, Austin, London and other select cities. In the augmented reality version, gamers are directed to different stops to pick up cards and build a five-card hand to play against a computer-controlled dealer.
Just as in “Pokemon Go,” virtual cards appear in the real world as the players use their smartphones to go to different spots.
Milwaukee County passed its ordinance in February in response to the large crowds “Pokemon Go” attracted to one of its parks along Lake Michigan. Officials said the sudden influx of people left the park trash-ridden and the county paying to clean up.
The ordinance requires that game developers apply for and obtain a permit like any other business or group that wants to host park events. Fees are due on a sliding-scale — anywhere from $100 to $1,000, depending on how much of the park will be used and how many people are expected to be there. The money is meant to help with the park’s upkeep and the permits are supposed to help the county prepare for the volume of people, according to County Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman, who authored the ordinance.
The lawsuit acknowledges that Candy Lab “is apparently already in violation of the ordinance” because it doesn’t have a permit.
The lawsuit contends that Milwaukee County’s permitting process is vague and that, as a startup with a handful of investors, Candy Lab “cannot afford to undertake the process of researching the need to, and undertaking the effort to apply for, permits from municipal governments before publishing the very mobile applications that are the source of the company’s revenue.”