HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Authorities in Honolulu are trying to stay ahead of the game when it comes to controversial video arcade games that have been popping up over the last couple of years. The Honolulu Police Department and City Prosecutor's Office are doubling down on efforts to rid Oahu of those machines.
On Thursday, HPD officers raided a half-dozen "Winner's Zone" arcades and seized 77 gaming machines. The city calls them gambling devices - all gambling in Hawaii is outlawed - but arcade and shop owners insist their machines are perfectly legal. Both advocates and opponents say the law is on their side.
The "Winner's Zone" arcades that were targeted are located in Ewa Beach, Kakaako, Pearl City, Wahiawa, Waikiki, and Waipio.
HPD Assistant Chief Susan Dowsett says "The gambling devices were seized, along with gambling records. All of the seized devices were product-direct sweepstakes machines. The total value of the machines is over $250,000."
The raids are part of a seven month investigation that authorities say is not over yet. They believe dozens more arcades and what are called "Internet Sweepstakes Shops" are spread throughout the island, if not the state. Hilo police, for instance, raided three arcades back in July. Honolulu's city attorney says they've got legal ground here to enforce anti-gambling laws.
"We did extensive legal research, and there are case laws across the nation that support our position that indicate that these machines are gambling machines," says Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro.
But shop and arcade owners contend they've gone through rigorous scrutiny. They say the machines aren't gambling; rather, they're games of skill because chances of winning increase the more you play. Plus, there's no purchase necessary, at the outset, to play. One Waikiki resident who saw Thursday's raid thinks the machines might actually boost our economy.
"I have no objection to it," says John Dew who's also a Waikiki Neighborhood Boardmember. "If a landlord leased it, I'm just hoping that the HPD had all their t's crossed and all the i's dotted because, obviously, somebody has invested a lot of money in this."
But Kaneshiro is putting owners - and players - on notice for illegal activity. "Kinda elementary. You put in money with the intent of winning money. You either win or lose money, and that's gambling."
Still, both sides appear all-in on this controversy.
HPD didn't make any arrests in Thursday's raids, but authorities have left the door open for that. The sting was prompted by citizen complaints and an undercover HPD investigation.