The controversy surrounding the existence of Spin to Win isn't about gambling. It's not even about the East Water Street business using games of skill or chance. City officials consider the problem a zoning issue.
Reese Wineman, Spin to Win's attorney, said zoning can be "used" and "enacted" to violate someone's civil rights, but doesn't know if the city is doing a witch hunt. He considers it "awfully unusual" to have employees receive daily citations in the midst of media coverage over games similar to what Spin to Win offers.
Business owner David J. Pugh, 57, of 32 N. Old State Road, and operators Ed and Bonnie Cordle, of Berlin Heights, have been issued about five total citations on a charge of violating Norwalk's general business zoning code. They are accused of not having the proper permit for eight Tic Tac Fruit machines.
Norwalk City Zoning Officer Linda Hebert sent Spin to Win a letter Aug. 21, instructing the business to "cease and desist operation immediately" until it had obtained the proper zoning permit. Hebert then referred the matter to Norwalk Law Director Stuart O'Hara, who decided to have the police issue daily citations until the matter is resolved.
Wineman, the law director from 1980 through 1994, has never witnessed a business getting daily citations.
"It's going to shut their business down," he said. "They've been ordered to shut their business down. Period."
Hebert said police received their first Spin to Win-related complaint Aug. 14 about "gambling and slot machines."
"They supposedly got a vendor's license Aug. 3," she added. Hebert said the business opened on East Water Street without filing the proper paperwork with the city and therefore, is operating illegally.
She believes the summonses are warranted. Hebert also said it isn't considered badgering because if someone had a similar complaint about another business violating the zoning policy, "we would do the same thing."
Norwalk Police Chief Kevin Cashen said officers "very infrequently" have had to intervene on behalf of the zoning office because most businesses "figure out what they have to do to come into compliance."
Detective Sgt. Jim Fulton is in charge of the investigation and has been to Spin to Win three times, citing each of the Cordles and Pugh. Fulton said the employees at first didn't understand why they were being charged, but have been told they need a conditional use permit.
"They've been cooperative," he said. "He (Pugh) wants to get this thing worked out at least that's what he's told me."
There were no telephone listings for the three people who face a $100 fine on each citation. The Reflector's attempt to contact Pugh at Spin to Win was unsuccessful Tuesday.
The business is accused of violating at least two provisions of the city's general business zoning code. First, Spin to Win is required to obtain a conditional use permit and would be allowed to open, depending on the restrictions handed down by the zoning board.
"Since they haven't done that, they're in violation. Each day (they're open) is a separate violation," said O'Hara, the law director.
Second, because the nature of Spin to Win's business is being an "amusement arcade," it is not allowed to operate within 1,000 feet of a school. "And they're around 800 feet from Main Street School," O'Hara added.
Even if Spin to Win applies for the permit, the law director said it's unlikely they would get it because of where the building is located. That means the school provision trumps the conditional use provision.
"I think the building was (already) there, but the use was not," O'Hara added.
Hebert, the zoning officer for the last 17 years, agreed with the law director's assessment of the situation.
She said the best resolution would be for Spin to Win to "stop what they're doing," meaning to shut down. Hebert suggested Pugh and the Cordles then file paperwork to be considered during the next zoning board meeting in October, noting it's too late for this month's meeting.
Hebert, Cashen and O'Hara agree the goal is for Spin to Win to comply with Norwalk's zoning ordinance.
"And that involves shutting them down until they do comply," O'Hara said.
Wineman, when asked if the Cordles and Pugh were going to fight the case in court, said he hadn't received "total discovery" from Hebert, but didn't elaborate.