In the first large-scale raid on illegal gambling devices since at least February, law enforcement seized $67,768 in cash and 57 unlicensed slot machines from a strip mall operation in a tiny Pennsylvania municipality near Reading, Berks County, on Thursday.
The so-called 777 Casino belongs to Windfall Amusements. The unlicensed slot parlor is in tiny Kenhorst Borough. That’s a town of fewer than 3,000 policed by neighboring Reading.
The borough, which had granted a variance to allow the placement of additional machines at the slot parlor in March despite questions raised about its legality, had no one available for comment Friday.
Unlicensed slot casino hiding in plain sight in PA
An anonymous complaint was followed after the local Reading Eagle newspaper did a story about the requested addition in February.
That led to the investigation. But COVID-19 halted the investigation when the parlor closed for a time.
The operation was always in plain sight.
Windfall operated in a shopping center between a dollar store and a pawn shop. The operation began setting up last November, its Facebook page showed yesterday. Windfall advertised online, as well as making a video for television.
Windfall began welcoming customers on Dec. 6, according to its Facebook page, which was taken down today. The company had a website, but that content disappeared today as well.
DA and State Police team up to address unlicensed slot parlor
Berks County District Attorney John Adams, along with high-ranking PA State Police officials and members of his office, made the announcement midmorning Friday about the raid.
Taken into custody at a nearby residence were Sang Ik Lee, who generally goes by Sean, and Nahyun Hutchinson.
Both are now free. They could be charged later, said Adams. He said details of their roles in the operation remain under investigation.
Adams admitted he personally frequented the shopping center where the parlor was located, but he had paid it no mind initially.
But then Adams wondered what was going on when a new sign went up outside touting a casino.
Two men from Georgia remain under investigation
Records show both people lived in Georgia until fairly recently.
Lee, 48, has a long history of liens totaling more than $230,000 in Mississippi. One was for $138,303. The creditor is the state of Mississippi. It isn’t clear if any liens are repaid.
Lee uses the word “samurai” as part of one of his email accounts. He had given the Windfall business a five-star rating on Google around the time it began. Lee recruited workers for the startup of the location, posting his name and cell number online looking for employees.
Reached by text, Lee declined to comment but said he would speak to PlayPennsylvania in the future.
Unlicensed machines mean no revenue for state or local government
Adams pointed out that the machines at 777 Casino were unlicensed and unregulated, which means they were also untaxed and no one from the state was assuring their fairness.
“They paid nothing for what we determined was an illegal casino,” he said.
An approved mini-casino is coming to Morgantown in Berks County, Adams noted. Penn National Gaming paid $7.5 million for the rights to that casino.
Land-based casino slots pay a tax rate of 42%. Of that, 2% goes to local governments.
Adams said the drain on state revenue created by illegal slots not paying any revenue to the state can only be addressed by closing down the machines. “This is an ongoing issue throughout Pennsylvania,” he said.
State Police Major Jeffrey Fisher said his force believes all devices outside regulated casinos are illegal.
Enforcement had halted for a time after a crackdown
After one court victory in February, State Police had begun vigorous enforcement against the machines, which sometimes are referred to as skill games or video gaming terminals. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board deemed them illegal in February following a court win.
Then State Police had the added impetus of shutting down machines over fears of spreading the coronavirus.
But without notice until a report in PlayPennsylvania, Attorney General Josh Shapiro quietly halted enforcement efforts from his office, which are done via the State Police.
This is the first major enforcement effort since spring.