Arcade owner sues police chief, prosecutor

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A Hilo arcade owner whose establishment has twice been the subject of police gambling raids is suing in an effort to stave off another potential search and seizure.

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A Hilo arcade owner whose establishment has twice been the subject of police gambling raids is suing in an effort to stave off another potential search and seizure.

The civil lawsuit was filed Nov. 3 in Hilo Circuit Court by attorney Brian De Lima on behalf of 20 LLC, dba Triple 7 Amusement, and its owner, Lance Yamada. It names as defendants Hawaii Police Chief Harry Kubojiri and Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth in their official capacities, plus numerous “Doe” defendants.

The complaint seeks a court order barring the seizure of computers and terminals used to operate games at the Manono Street game room and any contact by police and prosecutors with the establishment’s landlord “until and unless the games being operated at the plaintiffs (sic) establishments are deemed to be illegal gambling devices by the court” or “plaintiffs are guilty of promoting gambling by the operation of the games presently operated by plaintiffs.” It also seeks unspecified damages should a raid occur without those conditions being met.

Triple 7, at 500 Manono St., has been in operation since 1999, according to the suit. Police executed search warrants on July 20, 2012, and March 1 this year and seized what they described as “suspected illegal gambling machines, suspected gambling records, and large sums of cash.”

Yamada was arrested during the 2012 raid on suspicion of promoting gambling, but was released without being charged. He was not arrested during this year’s raid.

Triple 7 shuttered temporarily after the second raid, but, the lawsuit said it posted a notice to patrons on Feb. 29 this year — a day before the search warrant was served — that it planned to close temporarily on March 7 after Roth sent an opinion letter to De Lima dated Dec. 17, 2015, that Triple 7’s “fish shooter” game was a game of chance and was therefore a gambling device. The notice said the fish shooter games would be discontinued.

The suit also states Detective Ian Lee Loy informed Yamada on Feb. 29 that Roth would be issuing a cease-and-desist letter to Yamada, but that none was received prior to the raid.

“My client’s a businessman,” De Lima said. “He gets opinions from the manufacturer of these games that they’re legal under Hawaii law. So he puts them in. He invites the police to come and take a look at the machines and advise him if there are any problems. He does all that. And after doing all that, after being in operation for months, they come and execute a search warrant. No cease-and-desist letter, nothing like that. They just come and seize all of his equipment. And that’s after meeting with officers of law enforcement, showing them the games, inviting them to see the procedures, and never being told that it’s illegal.”

According to the suit, Yamada has installed new “no chance” games that allow players to know whether or not a win is coming before money is placed into the machine. The filing states that police and prosecutors have again been invited to examine the operation and give their views on the machines’ legality, but they haven’t done so.

De Lima said Yamada filed the suit seeking a declaratory judgment because “he didn’t want (another raid) with the existing machines that he has,” he said. “My client’s willing to abide by what the court says. He doesn’t want to operate an illegal operation. He doesn’t want to operate an underground operation. He’s in a storefront.”

A July 13 letter to Yamada from Craig Sadamoto, attorney for Patrick Taketa, Triple 7’s landlord, said Taketa had been notified that prosecutors and police think Yamada is still operating an illegal gambling operation and that his business caused nuisance problems with noise, loitering, littering and possible drug dealing by patrons.

“Landlord received a notice of possible forfeiture proceedings against his interests in his property if your business is allowed to operate,” the letter, which was attached to the suit, said.

“We’ve been told that prosecutors have indicated to the landlord that their property could be subject to forfeiture if they permit illegal activities to occur,” De Lima said. “Based upon what our understanding of the law is and what games have been installed at the present location, we don’t believe any laws are being violated. And we’ve offered to have them come down and inspect the machines, bring down any experts they want to examine it, so they can have a full understanding of the process. And no one has called to arrange such an examination. So we’re trying to involve the courts, so that (Yamada) can receive due process and his property not get seized without … police and prosecutors having the benefit of full information before they act unilaterally.”

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Roth and Laureen Martin, county Corporation Counsel litigation chief, said Wednesday they hadn’t been served with the suit and couldn’t comment on litigation, regardless.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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