Dozens of owners of arcades, trampoline parks, laser tag facilities and other indoor amusement centers are suing New York State over not being allowed to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, calling the continued shutdown "arbitrary, capricious, irrational and abusive."
Since ordering the temporary shutdown of nonessential businesses in March, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has allowed many similar businesses, including casinos, gyms, movie theaters and bowling alleys, to reopen, while ignoring other indoor family amusement facilities, according to the lawsuit filed last Thursday in state Supreme Court in Onondaga County.
The plaintiffs, including an Urban Air Adventure Park franchise in Lake Grove, say the state has offered no guidance or plan for reopening their businesses, which have suffered significant financial losses.
"We didn’t want to file a lawsuit. However, we need engagement. We cannot be ignored any longer," said David Wolmetz, who co-owns the indoor trampoline park in Lake Grove with Keith Handler.
New York state was able to bend the COVID-19 curve last spring and manage the holiday surge using data-driven public health policies, Cuomo administration spokesman Jack Sterne said.
"Some higher-risk industries like places of public amusement did not neatly fit into the phases, and we continue to monitor how and when they can safely reopen. We appreciate that business owners want to plan in advance to operate safely, and will work with these industries as that process continues," he said.
The Lake Grove Urban Air franchise, which opened in November 2019, is one of 45 venues across the state whose operators are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The plaintiffs' businesses include eight venues on Long Island.
The businesses want the court to force the state to allow them to reopen under the same guidelines that other businesses have used, such as operating at limited capacity and reduced hours, said the plaintiffs’ Syosset-based attorney, James G. Mermigis, who also filed a similar lawsuit in July on behalf of then-closed gyms.
The lawsuit filed last week names Cuomo, the attorney general and New York State as defendants; they have 30 days to respond.
The filing came a day after Dave & Buster’s, a national arcade and restaurant chain, filed its own lawsuit against Cuomo over not being allowed to reopen in the state, while the Dallas-based company operates fully in most of the other states where it does business.
"Before the pandemic, plaintiff employed over 1,200 team members at 11 locations across the state. Due to the shutdown, it has been forced to furlough all but 40 of these individuals," Dave & Buster’s Entertainment Inc. wrote in the Feb. 3 lawsuit.
Dave & Buster’s did not respond to requests for comment.
After ordering the temporary closings of nonessential businesses in March to help stop the spread of COVID-19, Cuomo allowed businesses to reopen in one of four phases — as long as they were in regions that met certain bench marks for improved virus numbers.
All regions in the state had entered phase 4 by July 20, but some businesses that were expected to be allowed to reopen in that phase were forced to remain closed longer.
For example, bowling alleys were allowed to reopen at 50% capacity Aug. 17 and, outside New York City, movie theaters could reopen at 25% capacity Oct. 23 if they were in regions that met certain COVID-19 bench marks.
But trampoline parks, arcades, laser tag centers and other indoor public amusement centers remain closed.
Urban Air and the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed last week are small businesses whose owners will lose their investments and businesses without judicial intervention, the suit claims.
"The Business Shutdown Orders, and the New York Forward reopening plan issued by Defendants, constitute arbitrary, capricious, irrational and abusive conduct that interferes with Plaintiffs' liberty and property interests protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution," the lawsuit states.
Urban Air received $475,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program, a federal initiative to help businesses keep workers employed during the pandemic, and about 25% of that money will have to be paid back, Handler estimates.
The franchise's 120 part-time and six full-time workers have been furloughed, he said.
Among the businesses in the group of plaintiffs is Laser Bounce Family Fun Center, which has two locations – one in Levittown and one in Queens – owned by Ryan D’Amico and his father, Joseph.
Amusement businesses’ requests for help from the state have fallen on deaf ears, Ryan D’Amico said.
"It’s just been very defeating, the amount of money that I’ve put in my business to make it safe and clean," said D’Amico, who said the business received $140,000 in PPP money but still had to furlough about 120 workers.