Raid marks new crackdown on gaming machines in NC

North Carolina has banned video poker for 12 years, but now fish game tables are the new trend. According to arcade operators, they’re following state law because the money a person can win is based on skill not luck. Officials say otherwise.

Authorities on Thursday raided a Randolph County arcade following a state investigation into video gambling in North Carolina.


State Bureau of Investigation agents entered the Asheboro business at about 2 p.m. with search warrants — marking the second crackdown in recent weeks at gaming parlors that are spreading across the state.

Outside the Lucky Day Skill Games & Fish Tables business on North Fayetteville Street, a law enforcement officer stood guard. A few afternoon customers tried to enter but were told, “They’re closed.”

Inside, police interviewed people and began reviewing various computer-based games and “fish tables.”

As of 3:00 p.m., the SBI had not announced arrests or specific charges.

The surprise law enforcement operations was the latest in an ongoing battle over whether video game arcades that feature “skill games” violate North Carolina’s strict gambling laws.

Other agencies involved included N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement, U.S. Homeland Security, the Randolph County District Attorneys Office, Asheboro Police Department and the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff’s offices and police statewide complain the arcades attract crime, due to their late-night hours and large amounts of cash on hand.

Thursday’s arrests are almost certain to draw legal scrutiny from the arcade owners and their lawyers. They contend the video games are games of skill, referencing a loophole in state law.

Authorities raided the Lucky Day arcade in Asheboro Thursday as part of a crackdown on video gaming parlors.

‘Fish games’

Across the state, sweepstakes-style games and multi-player tables called “Fish Games” have grown in popularity over the past year. The businesses are often open 24 hours, and often offer customers free food and accept as little as $1 to get started.

Earlier this year, the Charlotte Observer went inside fish game arcades, talked with several owners and an attorney for the arcade industry. They say allegations of illegal gambling happening inside are unfounded.

In several other states, fish games have been effectively shut down after forensic analysis showed the game’s outcome was based mostly on a person’s luck.

This debate over skill versus chance has historically been one for the courts in North Carolina to decide.

Some state lawmakers say they think North Carolina’s criminal penalties for gambling should be tougher.

State Sen. Andy Wells, a Republican from Hickory, says police officers in small towns where there are many arcades often find it difficult to put in a dent in operations.

“It’s kinda like counting the mushrooms in the rain. By the time you count ‘em 10 percent more have come up,” Wells told the Observer in August.

Authorities made nine arrests on Nov. 5 in Anson County, according to the SBI.

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