Thursday’s gambling raid that netted 77 Product Direct Sweepstakes machines from six Winner’z Zone arcade locations throughout Oahu will likely lead to the machines being banned by the Honolulu Liquor Commission.
Previously, the commission had granted permits for the controversial machines since it wasn’t the agency’s role to determine if they were in fact gambling devices.
“It's been the commission's consistent position that it is not the proper entity to make a determination as to whether these machines are illegal or in fact legal," said Liquor Commission Administrator Greg Nishioka.
However, now that City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro has received an opinion from a gambling expert that the sweepstakes machines are indeed a form of gambling, 32 bars will have to remove them immediately.
“Approval on these machines was made on the basis that if there was a determination that they are gambling devices, the permits would be rescinded,” said Nishoka.
The Liquor Commission issued the permits to local bars after being lobbied by PJY Enterprises starting in June of last year. Nishoka said it’s now up to the company to notify bars they are in violation of their permits.
Kaneshiro said other businesses, whether bars, arcades or otherwise, should be on notice the sweepstakes machines are indeed illegal.
“You either win or lose money, and that's gambling," Kaneshiro said in a joint news conference with Honolulu police. “This investigation is ongoing, and other machines at other sites may be seized if they continue to operate."
The seizure of dozens of sweepstakes machines from Winner’z Zone locations in Ewa Beach, Kakaako, Pearl City, Wahiawa, Waikiki and Waipio came after a six month investigation by Kaneshiro’s office and the Police Department’s Narcotics/Vice Division. So far, there have been no arrests.
“These particular cases that we made (Thursday) were promoting gambling in the second degree (and) it's a misdemeanor case,” said Assistant Police Chief Susan Dowsett. Still, Dowsett stressed the investigation is ongoing, and enhanced charges are possible.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Cynthia Thielen is already working on legislation to make it even harder to skirt Hawaii's gambling laws. The east Oahu Republican wants to add gambling to the state’s nuisance law, allowing citizens to challenge the presence of any video device that might be considered gambling.
"Every time they move further, we have to be ahead of them,” Thielen said of companies that peddle video gaming machines to business.
A phone call Friday to the attorney representing Winner'z Zone was not returned.