HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Many residents and business owners in Chinatown say game rooms are a big problem in their community, and that police need to do more. They say they're not surprised that officers -- responding to reports of gunfire -- wound up uncovering a gambling operation in their neighborhood Wednesday night.
HPD's Narcotics-Vice Division says it has opened 35 felony and misdemeanor cases involving these illegal operations so far this year. But police say once a game room is shut down, it's not unusual for the operator to simply open up shop at another location.
A day after police confiscated electronic gambling machines from a second-floor unit in Chinatown, video-journalist Duncan Armstrong and this reporter returned to the scene and attempted to talk to the people inside. We couldn't get past the door downstairs and, at one point, the door man threatened to harm us.
"I'm gonna (expletive) you up," the man said.
In addition to the machines, investigators say they seized surveillance equipment and $1,150 in cash.
Warren Wong runs the Chinese herb and acupuncture business right downstairs, and says he was surprised by the police operation Wednesday.
"When I look outside, I see a guy hold a gun," he said. "So I told my wife stay inside, otherwise they shoot and we get a problem."
"You had no idea what was going on upstairs?" this reporter asked.
"No, no idea," Wong replied.
But others say game rooms are an obvious problem in Chinatown.
"It is there all the time. We live with it day in and day out," Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock, Chinatown Business and Community Association, said. "They just move from place to place. Upstairs, second story, third story, fourth story are good hiding places."
HPD's Narcotics-Vice Division says it's making efforts to shut down game rooms, but there are challenges.
"People have an inherent privacy right on their property and they're very selective as to the clientele that is allowed inside," Maj. Susan Dowsett, division commander, said. "They're secure. Nobody can just enter the establishment."
That's why police say they need the public's help. Property owners face forfeiture if they know gambling is occurring and don't do anything to stop it.
"Long term, that would be what we're looking at if they don't continue to step in and prevent these operations," Dowsett said.
So far this year, HPD has made 50 arrests, and has seized 24 game machines, $105,000 in cash and $52,000 worth of other property in raids involving game rooms in the Chinatown and Keeaumoku areas.
"We know it's been a tough cat and mouse game," Shubert-Kwock said.
As for the reports of gunfire, police say there's nothing to indicate that a shooting actually occurred.
If you'd like to make an anonymous tip about a game room in your area, call HPD's Narcotics-Vice Division at 529-3101.
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Illegal gaming operation busted in Chinatown