By Ethan Forman
---- — A day after state and local police shut down the Lucky 7 Arcades in both Gloucester and at Danvers’ Liberty Tree Mall, authorities were still not citing any specific wrongdoing, and had still not filed any charges as of Wednesday.
But a number of customers of the older Gloucester arcade called the Times Wednesday to voice their support for a business that has earned praise in the past from Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr as an “outstanding corporate citizen.”
A woman’s voice on the answering machine at the number of the Gloucester location Wednesday was the same as the previous afternoon: “We will be closed until further notice, sorry for the inconvenience,” she said.
In Danvers, town officials were wondering anew whether the casino-like arcade was legal. Its owner, Rosalie Parisi, who runs the business with her husband Sam and their daughter, Janine, as manager of the Gloucester outlet, have long maintained that Lucky 7 simply offers arcade games for adults, with prizes such as gift certificates to restaurants and other local businesses.
Brad Puffer, a spokesman for the Attorney General office, said Wednesday his office cannot comment on ongoing investigations. Puffer confirmed, however, that the Attorney General’s office executed a search warrant on the premises.
While the reasons for state shutting down Lucky 7 Arcade was not known, part of the reasoning may depend on whether the slot machine devices require skill, like an amusement game, or depend on chance or a sweepstakes to pay off. A lot may also depend on the state’s 2011 gaming law as it relates to slot machines, as this law tightened the definitions surrounding amusement devices, saying slot machines are not amusement devices like pinball machines.
At the urging of now selectmen Chairman Gardner Trask, Danvers officials last year inquired of Lucky 7 and all other holders of coin operated amusement device licenses whether their machines complied with the state’s 2012 Cyber Cafe law. This law was aimed at cracking down on store owners who were selling Internet time, but who were, the state alleges, operating online casinos with a chance to play a sweepstakes.
To find out more about the Lucky 7 Arcade, the town asked the business to explain if its machines were in compliance with the Cyber Cafe law. A detective even paid a visit to the establishment in October.
The town and the state Division of Standards had both licensed the machines being used by Lucky 7 as amusement machines, according to Danvers town records. Trask said the town’s approval was not a legal review of the machines, “it’s more of a weights and measures function,” Trask said. Town boards approved the business as an amusement arcade.
After Trask asked about Lucky 7 Arcade and its relation to the Cyber Cafe law, Town Manager Wayne Marquis and others had discussions with Police Chief Neil Ouellette and Town Counsel, and the town made a couple of calls to the Attorney General’s office. The town’s own inquiry into Lucky 7 Arcade had not been completed by the time the Attorney General Office acted earlier this week, Marquis said.
However, the town did receive a lengthy response to its inquiry from Rosalie Parisi; it read, in part: “I believe Lucky 7 Arcade is fully compliant with both the spirit and letter of the law.”
”Similar to carnival games and family entertainment centers like Chuck E. Cheese’s and Dave and Buster’s,” Parisi said in her Oct. 4, 2012 letter, “we allow our customers a chance to test their skills in pursuit of winning prizes. Unlike the cyber cafes where the clients walk away with wads of cash, our customers can redeem their points for prizes and gift certificates.”
The town’s questioning of Lucky 7 Arcade drew a strong letter of support for the Parisis from Sen. Tarr who, in an Oct. 5, 2012 letter, stated “I believe Lucky 7 Arcade is fully compliant with both the spirit and the letter of the law.”
Tarr said in his letter the Cyber Cafe law was meant to crack down on “unscrupulous store owners who claimed to sell Internet time but actually operated casino style gaming in violation of Massachusetts consumer protection laws ... Lucky 7 Arcade ... is the antithesis of such an operation, and I am proud to have her business operating in the district I represent.”
He called the business, which has operated in Gloucester since 2006, then opened its Liberty Tree outlet last year “a bedrock of the Gloucester business community and an outstanding corporate citizen.” It not only employs people during tough times, Tarr said in his letter, but its prizes of gift certificates to local restaurants helps boost the local economy.
A call to Tarr’s office yesterday afternoon was not returned as of press time.
The Attorney General’s office has moved aggressively to crack down on cyber cafes it says are fronting as illegal gambling establishments.
On June 7, the AG’s office announced an owner of an Internet Cafe in Chicopee had pleaded guilty to charges of running an illegal slot parlor, and the corporation, Cafeno’s Inc., in addition pleading guilty to the same charges, also pleaded guilty falsifying state tax returns. The guilty pleas were met with stiff fines and two years probation.
While there is some question about whether the Cyber Cafe law applies to the amusement devices and operations of the Lucky 7, given there appears to be no sweepstakes involved, the state’s 2011 gaming act did tighten rules on operating gaming devices.
The gaming act defined what a slot machine is, and defined them as being a game of chance or skill or both. It also outlawed anyone from operating gaming device without a license.
Parisi applauded the cyber cafe law as “a necessary safeguard against unscrupulous business owners.” Her argument was that Lucky 7’s games depend on skill, not chance or a sweepstakes, and so comply with state law governing automatic amusement devices, such as pinball machines.
But skill may not be the issue. While the law refers to machines that depend “in whole or in part, the skill of the player,” such as pinball machines, the law was also tightened in 2011 with the coming of the state’s gaming act to so that the definition of amusement devices expressly does not include slot machines.
The state law Parisi cites also forbids amusement devices being used for gambling.
Ethan Forman can be reached at email@example.com.