(Via Star Advertiser)
The odds are looking good that sweepstakes gaming machines will be outlawed on Oahu after a Honolulu City Council committee Tuesday endorsed a proposed ordinance.
The Council’s Public Safety and Economic Development Committee unanimously approved Bill 30 but also asked Councilman Joey Manahan to work with city attorneys and the Honolulu Police Department to tweak the bill’s language before it goes to the full Council for a public hearing and final vote.
Manahan has said that sweepstakes operations are tantamount to gambling when the machines give winners a coupon or token that can be redeemed for money.
Gaming outlets and other stores that feature Products Direct Sweepstakes machines and similar devices have spread across the island in recent years and have been the target of raids by law enforcement officials who say the flashy, slot machine-like video terminals meet the definition of gambling machines.
The city prosecutor’s office, however, has not prosecuted anyone arrested in those raids.
As proposed, the bill would make it a misdemeanor to manage, supervise, maintain, produce, possess or use the machines. It would be punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Manahan has said his office has seen a growing number of complaints, many from neighbors disturbed by the late-night hours and unsavory clientele drawn to the devices. He said he wants to provide police and prosecutors with more tools for their crackdown.
Since September 2012 law enforcement officials have raided a number of the parlors and seized more than 100 of the machines.
But Tracy Yoshimura, owner of PJY Enterprises LLC, which distributes and maintains the Products Direct Sweepstakes machines and also operates several of the parlors, complained Tuesday that the proposed law unfairly targets his business.
It’s not right, he said, because his machines, unlike many others out there, are legal because they offer the chance to win coupons for local products such as coffee, T-shirts, sunglasses and pancake mixes.
Yoshimura insisted his company has acted responsibly in responding to complaints and setting appropriate hours and restrictions designed to discourage unlawful behavior.
Manahan said the bill doesn’t target anyone or anything — except for Oahu’s proliferating number of gambling machines.
“Honestly, I can’t tell the difference” between the various devices, he said.
PJY has sued in U.S. District Court for return of machines seized in raids and to stop further actions by authorities, alleging the actions constitute illegal search and seizure. After a motion by the prosecutor’s office to drop the case was denied, U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi set a trial to begin May 20.
Yoshimura has never been charged with a crime, and the employees arrested in the raids have all been released pending investigation.
During testimony Tuesday a few residents called for stricter enforcement.
“They’re just getting out of control,” said Mitchell Tynanes of Ewa Beach. “I feel for the HPD officers. The law is vague. To me it’s illegal. And it doesn’t matter how you cut it, it’s gambling, and I’m not for these types of establishments.”
Dave Moskowitz of Waikiki described his visit to a couple of adult arcades.
“I know a slot machine when I see one,” he said. “It’s purely gaming. And don’t buy any line. It’s a gambling casino.”