The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

Local News

December 20, 2012

Video sweepstakes games in jeopardy

TARBORO — With the North Carolina Supreme Court’s ruling on Video sweepstakes game last Friday, the future appears bleak for the businesses. The court ruled the state’s ban on video sweepstakes games isn’t an infringement on free speech.

The state’s highest court ruled in two cases in which amusement machine and other companies sought to overturn a 2010 law banning sweepstakes machines as a form of gambling. The court said the law was a constitutional effort to close a loophole since the state outlawed video poker machines in 2007.  

The decision reverses a March ruling by the state court of appeals which said the move to outlaw the games was written too broadly and was unconstitutional.

The makers of software that drives sweepstakes gambling systems say they are appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court and have asked the State Supreme Court to stay an order banning the games.

Edgecombe County Sheriff James Knight said the ruling allows law-enforcement to enforce the verdict beginning Jan. 3. “However, the N.C. Sheriff’s Association will get together and talk with the attorney general to make sure that every county is enforcing the law the same way,” Knight said.

Despite the ruling, Tony Blackey, the owner of Lucky Lane Internet Cafe just outside of Tarboro on N.C. Highway 33, remains optimistic he will not be forced to close his businesses. He also owns one video sweepstake game business in Whitaker and two in Roanoke Rapids.

“This is blown out of proportion,” he said. “Right now, everybody is jumping to conclusion. The only thing that is going to happen is that they will govern it a little closer.”

Blackey said the games are just like playing the lottery. He has his theory why politicians are fighting to close the sweepstake businesses.

“It just political,” he said. “They need to leave us alone and everything will be all right. It’s no worse than playing bingo. I don’t see them talking about shutting bingo parlors down.

The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association on Monday told the state’s 100 county law enforcement officers that standard guidelines mean the law can be enforced beginning on Jan. 3.  If they close, 15 employees from Blackey’s  businesses will be unemployed.

“They need to take care of the American people’s Medicare and Social Security and stuff like that instead of trying to put us out of business,” he said. “There’s already too much unemployment in this state and now they are going to add to it.”

Video sweepstakes establishments have proliferated statewide since the state outlawed video poker machine six years ago. There are at least three in Tarboro and another 10 in Edgecombe County, not including Rocky Mount.

Doristine Vines, of Princeville is an avid customer of video sweepstakes businesses. Vines doesn’t want to see the business close, but she understand the political aspect.

“We must abide by the rules and regulations of the state,” she said. “They are saying that some earning like $6,000 and $7,000 should be taxed. If the earnings were taxed, I don’t think the state would be going after them.

“I like going because it gives me something to do. It’s a hobby for me.”

The games are also a hobby for Yatty Williams of Rocky Mount, who plays in an establishment in Tarboro. She doesn’t want to see the businesses close either.

“Whether I’m winning or not, that’s not important,” she said. “I like coming here because it relaxes me.

Sweepstakes operators and their attorneys say they’re confident they can make changes in the games so that they can stay in business.

(The Associated Press assisted with this story)


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