Bill targets gambling machines — A measure before the City Council would outlaw electronic gaming devices

(Via StarAdvertiser)

 
COURTESY HPD / 2012
One of 77 sweepstakes machines, previously approved for use by bars, seized in a gambling raid.

A bill before the Honolulu City Council would make it illegal to own, operate or use a simulated gambling machine on Oahu.

Gaming parlors that feature Products Direct Sweepstakes machines and similar devices have sprouted across Oahu in recent years and have been the target of raids by law enforcement who say the brightly lit video terminals meet the definition of gambling machines.

But the city prosecutor’s office has not prosecuted anyone arrested in those raids.

Councilman Joey Mana­han said he wants to provide police and prosecutors with more tools for their crackdown effort.

“Lately there have been a lot of them popping up,” he said. That includes within the Kalihi business district he represents and other sections of the island.

Manahan said his office has received repeated complaints for more than a year.

There are three or four parlors with the machines in his district, including one near schools and another on a side street in a heavily residential neighborhood, Mana­han said.

The complaints are coming primarily from neighbors bothered that the establishments are open until the wee hours of the morning and have drawn unsavory elements, including alcohol, drugs, loud parties and fighting, Manahan said.

“The activities that go on in and around these places are cause of concern for most of us,” he said.

The bill would make it illegal to “manage, supervise, maintain, provide, produce, possess or use” the machines. The violation would be considered a misdemeanor and punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, up to 30 days in jail or both.

Since September 2012 law enforcement officials have raided a number of the parlors and seized more than 100 of the machines. PJY Enterprises LLC distributes and maintains the machines and also operates several of the parlors.

PJY and its associate companies insist that the devices are not gambling machines. They say that, much like the popular McDonald’s nationwide Monopoly game, people can enter the sweepstakes and win prizes without any purchase.

Winner’z Zone on Ward Avenue offers a typical range of “sweepstakes” games, including machines that play electronic variations of sweepstakes scratch cards, keno and poker; electronic slot machines; and “push coin” games. Each of the machines requires payment, and winnings are received as vouchers that can be exchanged for cash at a designated service window.

PJY and prosecutors are currently in federal court over the machines.

PJY attorney Keith Kiu­chi said he and company owner Tracy Yoshi­mura contend the language in Mana­han’s bill is too vague and will not pass legal muster.

“It will probably not pass a constitutionality review,” Kiu­chi said.

A spokeswoman for the Hono­lulu Police Department said the agency is monitoring the bill, while a spokes­man for city Prosecutor Keith Kane­shiro declined comment.

The bill will get its first hearing Wednesday.

PJY has sued in U.S. District Court for return of the machines and to stop further actions by authorities, alleging the actions constitute illegal search and seizure. After a motion by Kane­shiro’s office to drop the case was denied, trial before U.S. District Judge Leslie Koba­ya­shi is set to begin May 20.

Yoshimura has never been charged with a crime, and the employees arrested at the raids have all been released pending investigation.

“The city still hasn’t prosecuted anybody,” Kiu­chi said.

A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said the investigation is ongoing.

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