The saga of skill games in Catawba County may not be over just yet.
On Friday, the Hickory Police Department announced charges of operating illegal gaming machines against a Hickory convenience store owner.
At the same time, an attorney for companies operating standalone gaming parlors in the area has said he is appealing a court order to allow his clients to stay in business.
‘It’s not fair what they are doing’
Hickory police charged Rashad Yahya Nasher, 47, owner of the Lucky 3 Food Mart on 12th Avenue NE, with a felony, saying his store had made six gaming machines available to the public in the store.
The charges, which were brought Wednesday and announced by police on Friday, followed an undercover investigation police began “after receiving complaints and due to a significant number of calls for police service at or near the business,” according to a release from the police department.
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In addition to gaming machines, the police also said they seized more than $25,000 in cash and two firearms.
Nasher was issued a $2,500 secured bond. He was back in his store Friday morning.
Nasher declined to comment much on the case but did say, “It’s not fair what they are doing.” He said he felt unfairly targeted and that other stores are currently operating the same machines.
He also complained of the two guns being taken, saying he had permits for both.
When asked about the weapons and money seized, Hickory Police Chief Thurman Whisnant said: “All evidence that was seized to include gaming equipment, cash and firearms was seized as part of our ongoing investigation into illegal gambling at this location. Once the case investigation is complete and the case is adjudicated, the evidence disposition will be at the discretion of the court per N.C. law.”
He added that the department is looking into claims of illegal gambling at other locations but would not divulge more. Whisnant also said this was the first time Hickory police have filed charges for operation of illegal gambling machines since March.
The fight continues
Cracking down on gaming in the city has been a priority for Hickory police for at least the last four years.
Those efforts received a boost earlier this year with rulings from the N.C. Supreme Court and Catawba County Superior Court Judge Gregory Hayes.
In February, the N.C. Supreme Court ruled a gaming system known as Gift Surplus was an illegal game of chance under state law.
The following month, Hayes lifted an injunction that blocked police in Hickory and Conover from enforcing the gaming laws against certain software.
The ruling was a blow for Fun Arcade LLC and Barracuda Ventures, gaming companies that had been fighting for the right to operate in those cities. The companies are not ready to give up the fight just yet.
Jonathan Trapp, the attorney for Fun Arcade and Barracuda, said he is appealing Hayes’ order.
The notice of appeal was filed in late March and there was a hearing before Hayes to reconsider the order. Hayes once again ruled against the gaming companies, Trapp said.
Trapp said he is now taking the matter to the N.C. Court of Appeals and is working to get a temporary restraining order reinstated so his clients can operate again. He said many of them are still on the hook for rent at properties they cannot use to generate revenue.
“If (the appeals court) did rule in our favor, they’ll reverse the most recent decision which would just allow us to go to trial,” Trapp said. “My thought always was that there was a material issue of fact between our experts and their experts. Their experts said they weren’t games of skill; our experts said they were. And so we just need to put it in front of a jury and let them decide.”
Trapp has also said the N.C Supreme Court ruling does not apply to his clients because the gaming systems are not the same.
Speaking in March, Trapp put it this way: “It’s the difference between watching little reels spin and you push them up and down versus actually playing a more arcade-style game with things moving across the screen and you trying to capture them and stop them and slow them down.”
Kevin Griffin is the City of Hickory reporter at the Hickory Daily Record.