Local News

Bar Owner: Innocent Games Seized in Video Poker Raid

Posted August 14, 2007 6:52 p.m. EDT

— A local business owner said Tuesday that the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office should raid Chuck E. Cheese restaurants if they're going to seize the games in his bar as illegal video poker machines.

David Hartzler, the owners of B.S. Jones Pub and Grill, was among 35 people cited with misdemeanors two weeks ago when state and local authorities raided dozens of locations across Cumberland County and seized 64 machines.

Video poker machines became illegal in North Carolina on July 1, when a phase-out of the machines approved last year by lawmakers took effect.

Hartzler called the games in his bar "glorified Nintendo machines." Patrons could play them on two Megatouch bar-top machines that resembled computer screens.

The machines had no card games and paid out no cash, which would make them legal, he said.

"No money ever exchanged hands, not here. We don't allow gambling in this place," he said. “If I’m going to pay out on $75 (in a machine), I’m an idiot for a businessman.”


But Debbie Tanna, spokeswoman for the sheriff's office, said a mechanism within the machines allows people familiar with them to tap into illegal games, including video poker and craps.

"Some of these machines, when you look at them, they look perfectly legal," Tanna said. But experienced players “know how to activate the gambling games when they get to the screen.”

Hartzler said he would have unplugged the machines if authorities had warned him they were illegal.

Authorities informed are business owners a year ago about the video poker phase-out and answered questions about the ban, Tanna said.

"If (Hartzler is) not paying anything out of this machine and he still had those gambling games on there, he's still held accountable for breaking the state statute," she said.

State law deems illegal "a video game based on or involving the random or chance matching of different pictures, words, numbers or symbols not dependent on the skill or dexterity of the player."

Hartzler's response to the law: "My interpretation of that is Chuck E. Cheese is illegal."

Video poker operators used a similar "Chuck E. Cheese defense" a year ago to fight against the phase-out of the machines. Because the games at the popular children's hangout distribute tickets that can be redeemed for prizes, the video poker operators contended they were no different than machines that rewarded poker players.