Restraining order puts brakes on police departments’ attempt to clamp down on skill games

Staff Writer

A police department’s attempt to enforce laws against skill game centers was put on hold after a judge granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) to seven of the arcades, according to officials with both the City of Hickory and City of Conover.
Earlier this month, the police departments of Conover and Hickory sent out letters to the gaming centers saying they would investigate whether these businesses were operating within the law.
According to Conover Police Chief Eric Loftin, there has been an interpretation of laws trying to determine whether the arcades’ games are a game of skill, or a game of chance.
“We are going to send officers in to play the games, and if the officers play these games and determine that the machines are a game of chance instead of the game of skill, and it meets the elements of criminal law, then we would have to seize the gaming devices as part of the evidence of the crime,” Loftin said. “If the officers went in there and it truly was a game of skill and there was no violation of the law, then nothing would happen.”
However, that effort was halted after Superior Court Judge Nathan Poovey’s ruling to grant the temporary restraining order for seven gaming businesses on Thursday. Those seven arcades are owned by Fun Arcade, LLC, according to Hickory City Deputy Attorney Arnita Dula.
A second hearing to determine if the actions in the TRO remain permanent is set for Jan. 7, 2019, Dula said.
Loftin said there have been numerous agencies across the state that have enforced the law against skill arcades and were able to shut them down.
Conover Police Department has received several complaints about the gaming centers including two armed robberies, domestic complaints and drug activity.
“I hear a lot when I am out in public, “How are the places operating? I thought they were illegal,’” he said.
According to Loftin, there are four skill game centers in Conover, one of which is owned by Fun Arcade.
The Observer News Enterprise spoke to two ladies who were shopping at a consignment store next to a skill arcade in Conover. Both ladies said they thought that skill games were illegal and had a weird vibe whenever they see the arcade.
“I have never been inside one of those places, but it seems like there are a lot of clandestine activities that are associated with places like that,” said Karen Spence.
Karen’s sister-in-law, Gina Spence, was a little more open to the idea of allowing the businesses to stay open.
“People can spend their own money on whatever they want, as long as it is legal and it isn’t hurting anyone,” she said. “So if it is legal, then they should be okay to stay open.”
While the TRO only covers the seven centers, the remaining gaming facilities not owned by Fun Arcade are still subject to investigation, according to Dula.
Chief Loftin has a clear message for those facilities.
“If you’re illegal, you should stop and find something else to do. If you are legal, then you can continue to operate,” Loftin said.