VISALIA, California – The members of the city of Visalia Planning Commission denied an appeal that an internet business was a retail business and not an arcade which required a conditional-use permit.
The Commission voted unanimously against Wonderland who claimed that the establishment offering internet time to customers in 324 S. Mooney Blvd. was just a retail business offering of phone cards, cell phone covers, snacks and other items.
Wonderland’s lawyer argued that based on the Visalia’s municipal code, the establishment’s activities with computers do not meet the definition of an arcade. The city officials, however, decide that the establishment was an arcade, therefore, it need a conditional-use permit to continue its operation.
In May 2013, law enforcement raid Wonderland and Dreamland owned by husband and wife Melham Farah and Silva Ghreir, both 39 from Woodlake.
Police also found about $88,000 cash stashed inside the couple’s house.
According to undercover agents who played casino-type games on Wonderland, although the owners advertised both businesses as internet cafes, nearby shop owners knew that was just a front.
“They were advised that for every cent spent, a point was loaded on the players’ cards, and with these points, one could bet on video games on the computer. The original money spent on the card could not be cashed out, but the player could cash out the winnings from playing the video game,” read the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office report.
Both Ghreir and Farah were charged with misdemeanor counts of possessing illegal gaming devices and possessing slot machines or devices. They were also scheduled for a re-arraignment on six counts of felony, money laundering, and conspiracy at the Tulare County Superior Court on July 24.
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