RALEIGH — A Wake County grand jury has indicted three people who have been charged with operating illegal Internet sweepstakes cafes in Raleigh.
The indictments were handed up to Wake County Superior Court on Tuesday, the same day Waheeda Ammeri, 37, of Rolesville and Chi Hun Kim, 39, and Arken Elhicheri, 44, of Raleigh were all charged with gambling, according to a spokeswoman for the Wake County Clerk of Courts Office.
Sheriff’s deputies had not yet arrested the three as of Wednesday morning, said Capt. James Stevens with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office.
Kim is affiliated with Treasure Sweepstakes Inc. on New Bern Avenue, while Ammeri and Elhicheri are listed as managers of Lucky 22 on Louisburg Road, according to records at the Secretary of State’s Office.
Elhicheri, whose name is also spelled El-Hicheri in court documents, has a previous criminal history that includes convictions in Wake County in 2004 and 2005 for felony possession of cocaine, possession with intent to sell and deliver cocaine and felony delivery of cocaine.
The 12 grand jurors issued true bills of indictment formally accusing the trio with “unlawfully and willfully” operating “an Internet sweepstakes, a game(s) of chance at which money was bet,” according to court records. The three were first charged on June 11, court records show.
The indictments are the latest in an eight-year effort by the state to ban sweepstakes gambling and the industry’s attempts to keep the Internet cafes open.
Opponents of sweepstakes gambling say the industry preys upon the poor. State Attorney General Roy Cooper last week likened the software manufacturers to the payday lending industry that state lawmakers outlawed in 2001 and shut down by 2006.
Cooper’s office has been working with local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, providing legal advice and assistance on closing down the establishments.
Each time the N.C. General Assembly comes up with new regulations to shut down the industry, software manufacturers create new games that they claim are lawful.
Electronic gambling, including video poker, was first banned in North Carolina in 2006, but the sweepstakes industry introduced new types of games that it said complied with the law.
State lawmakers passed new legislation in 2008 and 2010 that made it illegal to possess game terminals that simulate slot machines or display electronic sweepstakes. The makers of sweepstakes software responded by suing the state. The N.C. Supreme Court upheld the ban in 2012.
Sweepstakes owners again protested and claimed that new software reveals winners in advance, which keeps the games in compliance with the law.
Cooper said the adaptations are little more than attempts by gambling software manufacturers to circumvent the law.