Have Fish Tables Caught Their Limit?
My April 18 YES! Weekly feature “Checking Out Fish Tables in Greensboro” was the first many readers had heard of the “Fish Game” arcades popping up across the Triad, usually in strip mall storefronts previously offering now-outlawed sweepstakes gambling. These fish parlors were often advertised only by cheap banners. On May 1, an atypically large and brightly lit one opened in its building at 2007 Randleman Road, with flashing neon announcing the “Fish Palace Arcade” inside.
Whether because of publicity, or the multiple robberies, the Greensboro Police issued the following statement on June 12:
“Local law enforcement agencies are cracking down on businesses that operate ‘fish games,’ large scale table-mounted video games that pay cash rewards to players. Per North Carolina law, ‘any machine which, for the payment of money, is operated in such a way that the operator receives a cash payout of any kind, irrespective of whether the game requires skill or dexterity’ is prohibited.”
Shortly after that press release, representatives from the Greensboro Police Department hand-delivered letters to 37 known “fish parlors,” informing them that they had 30 days to comply with the law or face criminal action. Greensboro Police Chief Wayne Scott explained that they were offering a grace period because many business owners were unaware their games were illegal. Most, Chief Scott explained, were not “the criminal type,” but legitimate entrepreneurs “who went through proper channels for licensing.”
He also announced similar operations by the High Point Police Department and the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office.
Although the crackdown focused on the games, the announcement concluded by warning that, “almost any form of an electronic game that requires a customer to ‘pay to play’ and that pay the winner in cash or a money equivalent, may violate the law and subject them to a criminal penalty.”
I reached back out to “Vlad,” my anonymous source (whom I’d previously interviewed for the April article) and the pit boss at a Fish Tables arcade off Gate City Boulevard. When we last spoke, his establishment had been recently robbed by what he called “a very professional three-man crew, ski masks, glocks, shotgun–they knew what they were doing, and hit two other places after us.”
He said they had robbed again on June 12, and a couple of days later a competitor on Market Street, Vlad said, were held up “at 9 a.m. by some cracker with a deer rifle.”
Vlad says it all ends this Friday, July 14 when every such establishment in Guilford County will close at the end of the shift.
“The cops and city were okay with us for a while,” Vlad said. “But we made too much money, all cash, which attracts the wrong kind of people, the ones that prey on those who play. And I don’t just mean those that come through the door with guns.”
His establishment was allegedly robbed twice by gunmen, it was allegedly broken into once, and it was allegedly robbed once by the boyfriend of a former staff member (who, Vlad said, walked in and allegedly took over $900 out of a machine while customers were playing it).
“That particular cabinet wasn’t designed with padlock capability,” Vlad said. “It was key in, key out, and he had a key and knew where the cash was.”
On his phone, he showed me some video frames of a tall, skinny, white guy in a baseball cap taking money out of the console.
“Too many places were vulnerable to robberies set up by former employees,” Vlad said. “They know where the money is in the machine, and where the key to the machine is kept. All too often, it’s not in a safe.”
In this case, the coffee machine was Vlad’s hiding place. He recalled an instance where a woman, who he claims used to work at the Market Street Place and then eventually for him, allegedly stole money from a game.
“She was a single mom with a meth habit and a juicy ass, with which she persuaded this young, dumb Asian Ricky to do a little job for her,” Vlad said. “I’m sure she told him it was easy money, just go in and get the key from the coffee machine and there will be $5,500 in the Fish Machine.”
But Vlad’s boss had been tipped off, and in turn, tipped off the cops, who were waiting for the kid when he came in.
“The woman who had ass conned him into doing this was waiting in the getaway car outside, and they both had meth on them,” Vlad said. “So, they’re going away for a while.”
Vlad said the scariest moment was the first time they were allegedly robbed, the night of the Carolina game.
“Having a gun pointed at you by three guys who want money, that’s scary enough,” Vlad said. “But I knew they weren’t out to kill anybody; what worried me was thinking how I was going to handle a couple of people who came into play and who looked like they were going to be trouble. Also one of my coworkers who came in smoked out on meth, and made so much drama. Frankly, I’ll be glad to be done with that shit.”
But he doesn’t think Greensboro is finished with Fish Tables.
“For now, it will just go outside Guilford County,” he said. “But when it comes back, and it will, it will be because they can regulate it, and get the amusement license fees for establishments.”
Vlad said the gaming industry would get more innovative and creative in how they deal with the money. For instance, he said that they’d probably use debit card swipers on the machines. Or give out play money in exchange for credit or get gift certificates that can be cashed out.
“The gaming industry is only going to get stronger and stronger,” he said. “The more difficult you make it, the more money will go into circumventing those difficulties. And there will be something else in a few months.”