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‘Fish arcade’ ownership group files injunction against Rowan Sheriff Kevin Auten

By Shavonne Walker

shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The owner of a local “fish arcade” business has filed an injunction against Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten and requested courts disqualify the law enforcement agency’s attorney because 0f a conflict of interest.

This most injunction is in addition to another, similar case filed by two software companies that operate six “fish arcades” in Rowan County and which asked that courts to keep the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office from shutting the businesses down, seizing equipment and arresting personnel. The sheriff’s office had sought to shut down the businesses because of a belief that they violate the state’s gambling laws.

Chief Deputy David Ramsey says the law enforcement agency plans to continue to investigate the establishments. At last count, there were nearly 30 such businesses, most of which have voluntarily closed, Ramsey said.

“We are going to continue to fight and enforce the law,” Ramsey said.

In the recent court filing, Durham attorney Jonathan Trapp, who represents Gold Fish LLC, said the corporation was created in 2016 and operates 13 “sweepstakes businesses” in Rowan County. Dharminku Patel of Mocksville is listed as the registered agent of the company.

The corporation says it operates 4 Aces Arcade, located 3610 Mooresville Road; Gold Fish, located at 2143 Statesville Blvd.; Gold Fish, located at 3371 Old Mocksville Road; Fishmania, located at 800 N. Long St.; VIP Arcade, located at 175 N.C. 801, Woodleaf; VIP Arcade, located at 3425 N.C. 801, Woodleaf; Lucky Duck, located at 3402 North Main St.; Fish Hut, located at 905 S. Main St.; Fish Arcade, located at 1040 Freeland Drive; Aces Arcade, located at 2092 Statesville Blvd.; Lucky Duck, located at 1012 Mooresville Road; Tilley’s Internet 7, located at 1390 Pump Station Road, Kannapolis; and Ridge Arcade, located at 1404 North Ridge Ave., Kannapolis.

But Ramsey said some of the businesses operated by the corporation have already closed. And records maintained by the N.C. Secretary of State show the company was administratively dissolved in 2018 for failing to file an annual report with the state agency.

Once a patron enters one of the stores, the person must first purchase an item, in this case, Youbux. This makes them eligible to participate in free games on the software systems in the store. Patrons buy Youbux at a kiosk or point of sale. They can buy items from the website, in store or request to play a particular “skill-based game” in the store.

Both injunctions recently filed cite a lawsuit by Southern Pines businessman Richard Frye, owner of gaming company Sandhills Amusements, who in 2013 sued the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office and the state after the law enforcement agency began seizing gaming machines in that county. The injunction also includes electronic gaming experts who say they’ve certified the software as games of skill.

In the last several years, the state legislature passed laws that banned the establishments, citing that they were considered a form of gambling. Throughout the years the laws have changed and the way the games were played have changed. The games transitioned from “games of chance” to “games of skill.”

Gold Fish LLC has also said attorney Christopher Geis, who represents Auten, should be disqualified and his firm — Womble Bond Dickinson — removed from the case because the firm represented NLG Software, which is featured in “fish arcades.”

The injunction says the law firm began its relationship with Daniel Storie and his company in 2016 and continues to represent him in criminal and civil matters in North Carolina and several other states.

Storie worked with attorneys Michael Thielen and Claire Rauscher in the North Carolina office and with Mark Schamel and Chris Schafbuch in the Washington, D.C. office, according to the most recent court filing.

Court documents further state attorneys from the firm are representing two store owners in Virginia who are facing criminal charges concerning the operation of NLG software.

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