People are winning — big at this hot NC arcade trend.

People are winning — big at this hot NC arcade trend.


Garish aquatic creatures swim across a 55-inch TV screen embedded in the six-foot game table. If you shoot and kill one — sometimes a whale, a sea dragon or monster crab — you win points. Points are redeemable for cash or more credits to keep playing.

This is the fish game.

Twelve years after North Carolina’s ban on video poker machines, fish game tables are flourishing across the state. Charlotte has one of the highest concentrations of fish game arcades with at least 40, although authorities say there could be twice that many in the city.

Arcade operators maintain they’re following state law because they say the money a person can win is based on skill, not luck.

fish games


The money, operators say, is good.

In a week’s time, a large arcade can easily collect $50,000 in revenue, according to several employees and police investigators. Smaller locations with fewer customers might pull in about $10,000 weekly.


Inside a typical arcade, rows of stand-up arcade machines, computers and fish games cast a colorful glow inside otherwise low-lit buildings. The atmosphere is casual, with upbeat music playing.

fish skill games

Many locations have installed ventilation systems and allow smoking inside. There’s usually more than one game available but fish games are the newest and most popular, especially among young adults.

Arcades are open to adults only and can’t sell alcohol. The locations the Observer visited have dozens of security cameras and an armed guard. Weapons aren’t allowed inside, except by employees.

There are stories of players betting $5 and winning $400. There are customers who say the arcade is a safe alternative to the street.

Dale and Vonne say their workers and customers at Tank Arcade are like family.

They say they left their jobs at a major multi-national shipping and delivery company to manage the arcade. Now, they manage two locations in Charlotte and have plans to open a third.

Vonne Gregory says she vets the machines inside to make sure they comply with state gambling laws and to make sure the payouts and accounting for cash are fair. They’ve also made improvements to the building to meet fire code and enhance security and safety, she said.

Several of their regular customers are senior citizens. They told the Observer that the arcade has improved their neighborhood by establishing a business in a vacant building where otherwise squatters, prostitutes or drug dealers would take residence.

Arcade managers say they pay a percentage — usually around 25 percent — of the weekly take from fish games to the supplier who owns the table and is leasing it to the arcade. The games — with names like Ocean King, Fish Hunter and Turtle Revenge — appear to be mostly manufactured overseas though some companies advertise tables “Made in the USA.”