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Sheriff’s office says eight more businesses added to ‘fish arcades’ facing shutdown

By Shavonne Walker

shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — More “fish arcade” businesses will face a shut down this week after Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten sent a letter saying they violate the state’s sweepstakes law, according to Deputy Chief David Ramsey.

Last week, the sheriff’s office issued a letter to 22 businesses it says qualify as illegal gambling establishments. The businesses were given until Monday to shut down or face arrest, seizure of equipment and profits. After the letters were sent, Ramsey said, the sheriff’s office was notified by the public about at least eight more businesses.

The “fish arcade” businesses are named so because of the fish-type games that are played. The sheriff’s office says that it considers a ruling last year in the N.C. Court of Appeals against sweepstakes games enough to classify the businesses as illegal. Despite the influence of skills or dexterity in the games, the court said, the sweepstakes games violated state law.

Ramsey said the sheriff’s office has been notified by a few attorneys whose clients are opposing the crackdown but that the deputies intend to move forward because “recent court rulings are in favor of enforcement of the law.” And the sheriff’s office is taking the action, he said, after multiple complaints from the public, law enforcement partners and city and county planning and zoning officials about the businesses.

There have multiple robberies that have occurred at these gambling establishments, some of which have gone unreported to law enforcement. Residents and nearby businesses have complained of drug transactions and other crimes that have occurred at these types of businesses.

The Post last week attempted to talk to the owner and/or manager of the Fish Arcade Games, located at 2143 Statesville Blvd., about the planned enforcement action by the sheriff’s office. But a reporter and photographer were met at a locked door by a man who declined to comment for the story.

In 2018, the business was robbed by three armed men.

Nearby business owners and managers also declined to comment for the story, saying they feared retaliation, but some said the businesses would not be missed.

Davie County Sheriff J.D. Hartman successfully rid the county of fish arcades and other similar sweepstakes businesses beginning with an enforcement letter in Nov. 2018. All businesses to which letters were sent later closed.

Two such businesses remained open beyond his Nov. 30 deadline. Both closed after deputies visited.

Last week, however, one of the software companies that created the “fish arcade” games used by three Davie County businesses filed a restraining order and a preliminary injunction. The Post obtained a copy of the restraining order, which says the Davie Sheriff’s Office didn’t state why it felt software violated the sweepstakes or gambling laws.

One of those locations is one where undercover officers have bought drugs, Hartman said. And, he said, investigators continue to see those types of incidents.

“My attorneys hopefully next week will file a motion to dismiss all of that stuff,” Hartman said.

For agencies like the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, in the midst of what he’s experienced, Hartman advised it’s just a situation they’ll have to work through..

“We’re not the only counties doing it. Regardless of what you might hear they are absolutely illegal, they violate the law,” Hartman said. “It’s always been illegal, in my opinion. There’s been so many lawsuits over the last 10 years and we’re waiting to see what will happen.”

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