Businesses Fight L.A. Sheriff Over Seizures

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – Two Southern California businesses claim in court that the L.A. County Sheriff illegally seized their rental computers, falsely calling them “slot machines.”
     Mani Group dba I-Biz, of Bellflower, and Puretech Investments dba LB Net, of Compton, sued County Sheriff Leroy D. Baca in Superior Court.
     Puretech accuses Baca, in his official capacity, of “massive and crippling seizures of virtually its entire contents (including all of its computers).” (Parentheses in complaint.)
     Mani Group, which says it runs “a virtually identical business … reasonably believes that the sheriff will soon proceed against its business with a similar mass seizure.”
     Puretech claims the sheriff raided its store in Compton on Aug. 20, and removed all 30 of its rental computers. It claims sheriff’s deputies conducted similar raids on March 21 in Lancaster and on July 10 in Carson. Puretech says it has reopened “but is fearful of another mass seizure.”
     Mani says it “has reasonably feared a similar mass seizure at its store” since sheriff’s deputies “visited” it on Aug. 15.
     Puretech and Mani say in the lawsuit that their stores provide business services and products, including fax, copy and printer services, and on-site computers with Internet and email access. The computers include word processing and spreadsheet programs, business resume and business letter forms, and instructional programs, according to the complaint.
     Puretech says it charges $5 per hour for computer time. It claims Baca’s seizures and threatened seizures “are based upon a misreading of California law defining ‘slot machines,'” as “definitively set forth” in Trinkle v. California State Lottery, 105 Cal. App. 4th 1401 (2003).
     “The sheriff’s theory is that the computers offer for on-site rental to their customers constitute ‘slot machines,’ as defined by a 1952 California law, to the extent they are used in connection with a common sweepstakes promotion program which both plaintiffs use to successfully promote use of their products and services,” the complaint states.
     “In fact, none of the computers constitute ‘slot machines’ as defined by the applicable 1952 California statute.”
     The plaintiffs acknowledge that they both use “a sweepstakes program” to promote themselves.
     The complaint does explain how the plaintiffs’ sweepstakes promotions work.
     “They both use the same promotional sweepstakes program, which is part of the ‘Blue Diamond’ system from Figure 8 Technologies, Inc. The Blue Diamond software provides both the sweepstakes program and other computer capabilities offered by plaintiffs,” the complaint states.
     Figure 8 is not a party to the lawsuit.
     Figure 8, which has been around since 2003, describes itself on its website as “a top player in the field of Game Design and Development.” Its website features casino style games such as “Lucky’s Loot,” “Crazy Eights,” “Deuces Wild,” and “Fiery Keno.”
     Puretech and Mani do not state what games or software they use in their sweepstakes program.
     The plaintiffs claim their computers are not slot machines, as they do not meet the three elements required by Trinkle: “(1) the insertion of money or other object which causes the machine to operate, (2) the operation of the machine is unpredictable and governed by chance, and (3) by reason of the chance operation of the machine, the user may become entitled to receive a thing of value.'”
     Puretech and Mani also claim that Trinkle defined a slot machine as part of a “house banked game,” in which the operator has an interest in the outcome.
     For example, the plaintiffs say, the operator of a lottery has no interest in the outcome because the prize is fixed and given to the winners no matter what. In gaming, such as slot machines, the operator has to pay off all winners, and retains the stakes put up by the losers, giving the operator an interest.
     “The computers in plaintiffs’ businesses do not meet any of these elements,” the plaintiffs say.
     “First, no object of any type is inserted into these computers.
     “Second, as used in connection with plaintiffs’ Blue Diamond sweepstakes software promotion program, there is absolutely no random or chance operation of these machines.
     “Third, there is no random or chance operation of these machines which results in the awarding of any prize.
     “Fourth, these machines do not constitute house-banked games because plaintiffs have no interest in whether any participant in their sweepstakes promotions wins; the total amount of sweepstakes prizes is predetermined and it has no effect on plaintiffs whether any given participant wins anything, or now much he wins.”
     The plaintiffs seek declaratory and an injunction.
     They are represented by G. Randall Garrou with Weston, Garrou & Mooney.
     The Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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