Legality of Fish Game Arcades

North Carolina Struggles with Legality of Fish Game Arcades


For years, North Carolina has been trying to eliminate so-called sweepstakes parlors. Now, there’s a new legal pastime that’s sweeping the Tar Heel State: the fish game.

Fish Table Game News
Over the past 18 months, fish game arcades have exploded in popularity throughout North Carolina. Operators say that they are offering a game of skill that is legal under state law.

Like Shooting Fish in a Barrel

With titles like “Fish Hunter” and “Ocean King,” the fish games aren’t brand new. A report by Waypoint documented raids on arcades offering these titles in states like California and Hawaii dating back to 2014.

The games are presented on a large table, where fish and other sea creatures swim across a glass screen. Players can sit at six to eight stations around the machine, each of which has a joystick and a shoot button.

The object is to shoot and kill fish in order to win points, which can be redeemed for cash or used as more credits to continue playing the game. Players pay for each shot they take, they can increase the power of their attacks.

The games feature arcade game features, like special mini-games that are triggered by killing certain creatures. Valuable targets like whales might take many shots to kill, with only the player who lands the final shot earning the points.

High Value, While Need Skills

Those high-value targets present the possibility of winning big money. That, in turn, players like to play, meaning significant revenue for operators who have opened the adult-only arcades that offer the games in North Carolina. The Charlotte Observer cited employees and police investigators as saying that some of the larger arcades in the state can collect $50,000 or more in revenue each week.

While that might sound something like a mini-casino, operators maintain that they are offering a skill game. Lawyer Jonathan Trapp, who represents the operator of two former arcades in Greensboro, told the Observer that the games require strategy and experience to play well.

“You have to have a feel for it,” Trapp said. “You have to figure out how the table is running.”

Many local officials see the situation differently. State Senator Andy Wells (R-Hickory) says there are now 27 fish game arcades in his hometown, more than the number of McDonald’s in the city. There is no official count of how many locations are active in North Carolina as a whole.

“There’s just been no enforcement,” Wells told the Observer. “They go where the people like to play.”