Commission forgoes ruling about phone cards
The Honolulu Liquor Commission declined yesterday to decide whether phone card vending machines in bars are illegal gambling devices.
Commission Chairman Dennis Enomoto said the machines do not appear to be the jurisdiction of the commission. The commission will likely seek the opinion of the city Prosecutor's Office.
The vending machine offers for $1 a three-minute long-distance phone card. The back of the pull-tab card bears four chances to win from $1 to $1,000.
But the commission heard testimony yesterday from a forensic gambling consultant and former FBI special agent that the card is a form of gambling.
Virginia-based consultant William Holmes, hired by the commission, said he found that the devices are "a game of chance. The fact that they added the three-minute calling card does not change the nature of the device."
Keith Kiuchi, attorney for a company that distributes the machines to bars, told the commission that the machines have been found not to be gambling devices in some jurisdictions.
Timothy Mariani, a detective with the Narcotics/Vice Division of the Honolulu Police Department, owns KP Amusements, which places the vending machines in bars and is looking at other venues such as service stations, Kiuchi said.
The Police Department did approve Mariani's request for outside employment, police Capt. Frank Fujii said. Fujii would not comment on whether the department was aware of the business activity or whether there has been an effort to determine the machines are legal.
Maj. Kevin Lima of the Narcotics/Vice Division refused to comment yesterday on whether the department has been looking into the matter of phone card vending machines.
Dewey Kim Jr., Honolulu Liquor Commission administrator, said he learned how widespread the vending machines are after taking office and receiving calls daily from people seeking approval for the machines.
He said he sent investigators to see what was going on, and found some customers were buying up to 100 phone cards at a time but throwing them away if they were not winning cards.
Kim said he has concerns because there are no laws governing the machines if they are not gambling devices, and there is nothing stopping children from playing.
"How long is it before an entrepreneurial person makes it available to children, poor people or persons with gambling problems?" Kim said after the meeting.
Before Kim became administrator, the commission wrote to the city Prosecutor's Office for an opinion but received no response, Kim said.
Jim Fulton of the city Prosecutor's Office said it does not give legal advice.
Machine vendor Brad Wong of Reliable Vendor said in late March he got permission from the Liquor Commission to place the machines in bars. He said a commission newsletter deemed the machines were entertainment.
Kim, however, said there was no finding one way or the other about their legality.
During the Liquor Commission hearing, Wong testified the phone card vending machines are "no purchase necessary."
Saturday, July 22, 2006
» Brad Wong testified at a Honolulu Liquor Commission hearing that phone card vending machines are "no purchase necessary." A Page A4 article yesterday misidentified Wong in a second reference.