Yes, investigations can take time — and, yes, we know all about the wheels of justice moving slowly.
But after two months, there are many questions surrounding the attorney general’s move to abruptly shut down and seize the assets of the Lucky 7 Arcades in both Danvers (at the Liberty Tree Mall) and Gloucester. While the search warrants raised questions of their own regarding the operations of those facilities under a new state gambling statute, the fact is, authorities now owe explanations to the operating Parisi family — which has still not been charged with any crime — and the community at large.
It was June 11 that law enforcement officers, working under the jurisdiction of the state attorney general’s office, raided both Lucky 7 sites, froze the business’s bank accounts, seized cash, and pulled machine motherboards, gift cards and computers from the locations.
Under the statute of limitations, the state could hang on to the seized assets for up to five years, while owners Rosalie and Sam Parisi, who operate the family business, can only wait. And that, quite frankly, is ridiculous. But it’s clear that the Parisis, who have operated the Lucky 7 in Gloucester for more than six years and expanded to open their new outlet in Danvers last year, are not only caught up in the grips of that poorly crafted law, but another, as well.
The hard-line Lucky 7 crackdowns have come amid a series of probes by the AG’s office into the operations of Internet cafes and shutdowns of facilities that allow patrons to purchase Internet time that can be used for gambling on electronic screens. That’s all after a 2012 piece of 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 the AG’s office. And that includes apparatuses that pay off in merchandise, in addition to gamblers’ usual prize — cold, hard cash.
The Parisis’ Lucky 7s don’t pay off in cash at all; players win merchandise prizes such as gift certificates to local restaurants. And in a letter obtained by The Salem News’ sister paper, the Gloucester Daily Times, the Parisis’ attorney, Eric Tennen, said he was told by state Sen. Bruce Tarr that no one in the Legislature thought the new law would criminalize what was already allowed.”
“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.),” Tennen wrote. “However, they did not harmonize the new law with the old.”
Sadly, that’s not surprising in the true legislative tradition. And Tarr’s and Tennen’s expressed beliefs make perfect sense. In fact, when the Parisis moved toward opening their Liberty Tree arcade last year, Tarr and others seemed to confirm that the facility would not land on the wrong side of the law.
Now, however, the Parisis are not only out of business; they are all out of their jobs, they have had their commercial bank accounts shut down, and they have more than $150,000 worth of assets under state control — even though they stand accused of no crimes.
The family also paid the city of Gloucester $100 in fees for each of the 50 machines it operates on Rogers Street — a cool $5,000 that they are unable to recoup from customer revenue. And then there are the customers — mostly senior citizens — who simply enjoy taking a chance on winning prizes that support other local businesses.
An investigator found it 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. That is among the concerns cited as a reason for the raid and shutdowns.
But it seems Lucky 7’s owners are primarily snagged in disputes over a poorly written state law and an AG’s office bent on using it to crack down on any form of even recreational gambling while, of course, leaving the Lottery intact.
Yes, the Legislature should clarify this law and its wording when it returns to session. But in the meantime, the AG’s office should either file charges and get on with the case or free the Parisis and their customers to return to the Lucky 7s.
It’s time to bring this hostage stalemate to a close.