ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - For the past one and one-half years, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office (RCSO) has been investigating video-based gambling operations within arcades and convenience stores in the county. According to a press release, the investigation has shown that the machines are not based on skill or dexterity and winners and losers are chosen randomly by chance.
The vast majority of these illegal businesses have been located within the county’s municipal jurisdictions. However, due to the overwhelming number of complaints from adjoining businesses, concerned citizens, churches, civic organizations, patrons, and law enforcement, the RCSO decided to address this problem. The complaints to the RCSO have included family members using their paychecks or COVID-19 stimulus money to gamble, armed individuals present inside and outside the venues, patrons being robbed of winnings as they exited the arcades, on site drug trafficking, and overdoses, to name a few.
The RCSO received specialized training in video-based gambling operations from the North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement Division.
In January 2020, known gambling locations were notified by the RCSO to cease operations or they would be subject to arrest, seizure of equipment and profits from their illegal businesses. After businesses were notified, some ceased operation, some remained open and some briefly closed and then reopened.
On January 28, 2020, a “Motion for Temporary Restraining Order Preliminary Injunctive Relief” was filed against Rowan County Sheriff Kevin L. Auten, on behalf of GOLD FISH, LLC, a Mocksville, North Carolina, based corporation who operates thirteen sweepstakes businesses in Rowan County. During the course of the investigation it was learned this corporation and its two managers operate numerous sweepstakes businesses in multiple counties in North Carolina. The managers previously lived in Salisbury, but now in Concord, according to the report.
In 2020, after undercover investigations the RCSO executed search warrants at four arcades and one residence as part of this broad investigation. The RCSO seized tens of thousands of dollars in cash, hundreds of gambling devices, firearms, and made multiple arrests. The owners of the properties were noticed that if they continued to allow these illegal businesses to operate, their properties were subject to nuisance and abatement laws and forfeiture.
On March 22, the RCSO and law enforcement partners from the United States Department of Homeland Security-Homeland Security Investigation and the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office executed search warrants at five locations, which included three businesses and two residences.
The businesses were Gold Fish, 2143-C Statesville Boulevard, Gold Fish, 3371 Old Mocksville Road, and D D Xpress Discount Mart, 3381 Old Mocksville Road, all in Salisbury. The two residences searched were in Concord. The RCSO seized over 175 gaming machines from the three businesses. The devices were all considered slot machines by definition of North Carolina Law. These included standup cabinet style gaming machines, “fish tables” and table models operated with the use of a mouse at the gaming terminal. The software used was Lightning, Fortune, Aloha, and Horizon, among others. Many of the tables and cabinet style machines had currency receivers. The RCSO seized $38,000 in cash from the three businesses.
From the two Concord residences, the RCSO seized over $728,000 in cash, along with numerous documents pertaining to the operations of gaming businesses.
At this time, the investigation would show that the gambling establishments being operated under the umbrella of Gold Fish, LLC, have committed numerous violations of state law, including having armed and unlicensed security guards working as security at the businesses, possessing slot machines, gambling, paying cash for credits earned, allowing the betting of more than eight credits, and possessing five or more slot machines.
At this point, one security guard, who was unlicensed by the North Carolina Private Protective Services, was charged. Arrests are pending against the managers, cashiers and other security personnel.
The money, totaling over $758,000 has been turned over to Homeland Security Investigations for asset forfeiture.