By Marjorie Nesin
---- — DANVERS — Two months after a June 11 state raid of Gloucester’s Lucky 7 Arcade froze the business’s bank account and pulled machine motherboards, gift cards and computers from its locations in Gloucester and Danvers, the phone line at the Gloucester location is disconnected and the lights remain out.
But the state has not yet pressed any charges against the business or the Gloucester family that owns and operates both facilities.
Under the statute of limitations, the state could hold the seized assets for up to five years, while owners Rosalie and Sam Parisi, who operated the business as a family enterprise, wait.
Though the family has remained mostly silent since the bust, on the day of the raid, Janine Parisi, the owners’ daughter who runs the Gloucester location, said the raid and closing of the arcades had rocked her family, many of whom work at the two locations or depend on their revenues.
“We’re pretty shook up ...” Parisi said at the time. “This is our life, this is our business. Our whole family works for this.”
No one from the family could be reached for comment last week.
The shutdown was the latest in a series of investigations by the Attorney General’s office into similar businesses. Since 2010, Coakley’s office has closed down a number of Internet cafes that allow patrons to purchase Internet time, primarily to use that time for gambling on electronic screens.
In August 2012, Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law legislation that created a new charge “for conducting or promoting an unauthorized sweepstakes that is executed through the use of the display of an electronic machine,” according to statements from the Attorney General’s office. Those charges would carry a penalty of up to $250,000 per machine and/or a state prison sentence of up to 15 years.
But a letter addressed to the Parisis from their attorney, Eric Tennen, and obtained by the Gloucester Daily Times, a sister paper of The Salem News, states that state Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, told Tennen “no one thought the new law would criminalize what was already allowed.” Tennen reflected that sentiment.
“I think it plainly obvious that the Legislature did not intend to criminalize what was already legal (e.g. Lucky 7, Chuck E. Cheese’s, Dave and Busters, etc.) However they did not harmonize the new law with the old,” Tennen wrote.
Tarr was not available to comment. But Tarr had endorsed the Gloucester Lucky 7 as the family prepared to expand to their Danvers location within the Liberty Tree Mall in 2012. The Gloucester location had been operating for six years at that time.
Neither arcade pays off in cash to customers, instead paying in gift certificates to local restaurants and other businesses. The Parisis have emphasized previously that, in that sense, their businesses also boost other aspects of the local economy. Tarr has also previously praised the Gloucester business as an economic “good neighbor.”
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s office declined to comment, saying the matter was still under investigation.
Investigators returned their search warrant with a summary of search and investigation details in late June. The warrant application contains details of undercover visits by troopers, who made their first visit to the Danvers arcade in January.
Based on what they found, FBI forensic examiner Deneen Hernandez said it was impossible for a customer to increase his or her odds of winning by stopping the electronic “reels” on the game, as reportedly suggested by some Lucky 7 employees to undercover officers.
“Ms. Hernandez stated that there is no customer skill involved in determining the results and explained that game odds/payout percentage can be set on each machine’s mother board by configuring ... switches,” wrote trooper Jose Cuevas, an investigator in the case.
But even if the games did involve skill, investigators suggested, they would still be illegal under another provision of the state gambling law that prohibits the use of such machines for games that provide cash, merchandise or other items of value.
With the new law, towns and cities lost the authority to license machines such as those that were operated at Lucky 7.
In a letter to the city, the Parisi family has also questioned Gloucester about the $100 per machine fee that the family paid to the city for permitting in 2011 and again in 2012. Technically, in those two years, the city was not authorized to permit the machines.
City legal counsel Suzanne Egan did not return calls for comment.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.