Looking to try your luck at Windward and Pearlridge malls? Try another time.

Las Vegas-style slot machines that gave out cash prizes have disappeared from Tilt stores on Oahu — at least temporarily.

The action comes three weeks after state Rep. Cynthia Thielen raised concerns about suspicions of gambling operations in Kaneohe.

It also comes one week after police raided three Hilo arcades in a sweep for “suspected gambling operations.” One of the arcades was Tilt Amusement Center in Prince Kuhio Plaza.

It’s not clear whether the removal of Island Fruit video arcades from Windward and Pearlridge malls are related to the Big Island raids. Hilo officers, who seized “33 suspected illegal gambling machines, suspected gambling records, and cash,” were expected to forward the results of their investigation to Hawaii County prosecutors.

Civil Beat left a message with the Hilo vice squad to learn the status of the case. The Hilo prosecutors office said the three defendants, who were arrested during the raid and later released, were not yet the subject of prosecution.

Inquiries to Tilt, meanwhile, were referred to the home office of Nickels and Dimes in Texas, which operates Tilt.

A woman answering the phone at Nickels and Dimes said the company was trying to get the Hawaii machines “put back in.” She said she would pass Civil Beat’s inquiry on to a vice president for operations.

Rep. Thielen was traveling and could not be reached for comment. But the Kaneohe resident who asked Thielen to look into the Tilt machines and similar operations told Civil Beat he was “pleasantly amazed” by developments.

“In my opinion, they are not going to admit or deny that it has anything to do with gambling,” said Jim Wolery. “There is a lot of interest in these kinds of machines, and other places may open up.”

Press Reveal, Redeem Winnings

Just a few blocks from Windward Mall, Kaneohe Pawn continues to operate an Internet Sweepstakes business.

The proprietors, who refused to give their full names, say they’re operating Internet café where, for $5 an hour, users can surf the web. But they can also play games similar to ones offered on the Tilt machines. And they can redeem points for cash.

But they insisted their machines aren’t the same as the ones at Tilt — that is, their games have “predetermined” outcomes so no chance is involved — and stressed that no one under 18 was allowed to use them.

Would Civil Beat like to try one of the Internet Sweepstakes machines?


I gave them one dollar, and they gave me an ATM-type card to swipe through a machine reader. I chose a game called “Welcome Vegas Nights,” which resembles a slot machine screen with five spinning reels dotted with images.

Instead of yanking on a lever (aka a “one-arm bandit”), the machines are all touch-screen activated. Press “Reveal” and the reels spin.

At first, I was up a nickel. But then I quickly lost the next few spins and the game was over.

I had a similar experience at the Winner’z Zone store in Pearl City. There, machines for a game called Product Direct Sweepstakes take dollar bills directly — ones, fives, tens, fifties, even Ben Franklins.

I put in a dollar and selected a black jack game. A few minutes later I was out of money.

“What’s the most you have seen someone win?” I asked a clerk.

Answer: $2,400.

There are six Winner’z Zones on Oahu, with two more planned. I left a business card with the store clerk and asked him to pass it on to his boss.

Is It Gambling?

Tom Kay, an attorney with the Hawaii Coalition Against the Legalized Gambling, said he welcomed the news that the Tilt machines had disappeared, at least temporarily.

It is the arcade sweepstakes games, however, that are of particular concern.

“I think they definitely are gambling,” said Kay. “The problem is, the engineers who developed these machines are extremely bright and they do all they can to make it appear that it is really a game of skill. But it is not a game of skill, it is pure luck, and if you play it long enough you may win — and they know that.”

Kay said sweepstakes arcades have been popular in states like Ohio, Florida and the Carolinas, and that they have now come to Hawaii.

Since gambling is defined by Hawaii as a game of chance, in Kay’s view that includes video or online poker. Some proponents have argued poker is a game of skill and therefore could be permitted in some form in the state.

“There may be a certain amount of skill in playing with the psychology of opponents, but it’s still really about what cards turn up,” he argued. “That’s a game of chance.”

Kay said his coalition would raise the issue of sweepstakes games with lawmakers. Thus far, most have been against gambling, but there have been indications that opposition is softening.

For example, the Hawaii Legislature in 2011 considered a bill that proposed a constitutional amendment to legalize slot machine and video poker gambling “that are not visible from the street in designated resort areas on the island of Oahu as provided by law.”

Another measure would have exempted from gambling offenses “any game where the outcome is predominantly determined by the skill of the players, including chess, bridge, backgammon, poker, rummy, golf, and bowling, but excluding games that are determined in part by a computer program.”

Both bills were carried over to the 2012 session but never received a hearing.

A third measure introduced in 2012 would have established a “Hawaii internet lottery and gaming corporation for the purpose of conducting internet gambling in Hawaii.”

Proceeds would go to capital improvements at public schools and the University of Hawaii system, scholarships and educational loan repayments “for medical students who practice in Hawaii for 10 years, support for the family practice rural residency program, watershed protection, and reduction and prevention of problem gambling.”

That bill went nowhere, too. All three measures were sponsored by Maui Rep. Joe Souki.

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