A day after raids, lawmakers forward bill on 'sweepstakes' machines

A day after raids, lawmakers forward bill on 'sweepstakes' machines
Rep. Karl Rhoads
Rep. Karl Rhoads

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A day after Honolulu Police raided Internet sweepstakes establishments and made six arrests, the state House gave preliminary approval to a measure that would define so-called "sweepstakes" machines as gambling devices.

Officers seized a total of 22 machines in the raids at the establishments, including Lucky Touch arcades at Keeaumoku, Aiea and the Stadium Mall. Those stores remained closed Friday.

However, several similar stores remained open, including the brightly-lit Winners Zone arcade downtown.

"I have received complaints from constituents about that location, saying that they're just gambling there, it's a gambling place," said Rep. Karl Rhoads. He represents the area and chairs the House Judiciary Committee.

Other Winners Zones arcades were raided last September; Lucky Touch stores were previously raided at the end of last year. The store owners have gone to court, claiming that the machines are legal because they are running a sweepstakes with prizes.

Lucky Touch advertises  ProductDirectWebsite.com, which lists prizes such as coupon books. The site also goes through a lot of small print detailing the rules of the sweepstakes.

Lawmakers are trying to close the apparent loophole with the bill, which passed its second reading before the full house Friday.

"The intent of the bill is to be sure that there's no question," said Rhoads.

Honolulu Police said the machines already violate current gambling statutes. But in a letter to the judiciary committee, HPD said it was sensitive to the lengths that the manufacturers will take to get around Hawaii's current gambling laws.

Meanwhile, the Honolulu prosecutor's office said it is carefully targeting the establishments where they have received complaints and have obtained search warrants in a single ongoing investigation. They want an airtight decision on the machines in court.

"The owners' argument is that they're not trying to hide anything and it's not gambling," said Rhoads. "So we're kind of back to the court case saying whether it is or not."

Rhoads and other lawmakers are hopeful the question may be finally be settled by a new law.

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