The Spot Arcade Games is seen in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The Spot Arcade Games is seen in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

4 arrested in connection to alleged illegal gambling operations

Troopers executed search warrants on The Spot in Kenai and The Arctic Spot in Soldotna

An investigation into alleged illicit gambling resulted in the arrest of four Kenai and Soldotna residents earlier this month.

According to a dispatch by Alaska State Troopers, they were notified in December of “an illegal gambling operation” in the Kenai area. On Oct. 5, a “multi-month” investigation resulted in the execution of multiple search warrants on both The Spot in Kenai and The Arctic Spot in Soldotna. Also searched were the homes of the four arrested and charged that day.

The dispatch says 40-year-old Soldotna resident Richard Mauia owns The Spot. Mauia, 31-year-old Kenai resident Weiqiang He, and 53-year-old Kenai resident Chengshan Liu were all arrested on the charge of first-degree promoting gambling.

Tom Papalagi, a 42-year-old Kenai resident, was described as security for the two establishments. He was arrested for first-degree promoting gambling, first-degree possession of gambling records, and third-degree misconduct involving a weapon.

An affidavit compiled by Assistant Attorney General Lindsay Ingaldson, included with charging documents, says that the Soldotna-based troopers were notified of an illegal gambling business in Kenai where games of chance were played only using “real cash.”

“The gambling activities at the illegal gambling enterprise did not fall in line with other types of pull tab or non-profit events that are more common within Alaska,” the affidavit reads. “The business was described as a type of casino with patrons entering depositing money into machines, and either losing money or winning amounts based primarily on luck.”

According to the affidavit, Trooper Sergeant Casey Hershberger entered The Spot earlier this year and was instructed by Mauia on how to play the games. Hershberger was able to win money playing the games, and left “with $30 more than he had arrived with.”

The second location, The Arctic Spot in Soldotna, was opened during the investigation. Over the course of months, Hershberger and other investigators entered both locations and participated in the games, the affidavit says. On two occasions, they won money. “On several occasions,” they lost money.

The affidavit says that troopers identified “more than five people involved with the gambling enterprise.” When search warrants were executed, troopers found money counters, financial reports, gambling games, around $75,000, and itemized ledgers “from the gambling business.”

In Papalagi’s bedroom, the affidavit says, troopers found an assault rifle with its serial number removed.

Mauia, Papalagi, He and Liu were all arrested, but the affidavit says additional defendants “have been identified in Alaska and in other states.” The dispatch says “additional arrests may be made.”

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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