N. C. Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Video Sweepstakes Gambling as Constitutional
High Court Overturns Lower Court Rulings
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
December 16, 2012
RALEIGH — North Carolina lawmakers who sent video poker packing in 2007 and have worked every session since to keep the enticing gambling at bay were vindicated Friday when the state’s highest court ruled the that the Legislature’s ban on video sweepstakes is constitutional.
The unanimous opinion, written by Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson, overturned two lower court rulings in cases brought by Hest Technologies and Sandhill Amusements, suits which argued that video sweepstakes are speech protected by the First Amendment.
“We had asked for Christians across the state to pray for the Supreme Court to have wisdom and discernment in this issue, and God heard those prayers and answered them,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, who also commended lawmakers for their diligence in closing legal loopholes in the ban and working to clarify the exact behavior that they were trying to bring to an end.
The Supreme Court ruling, which some sweepstakes operators have admitted they will still try to circumvent, recognized the General Assembly’s continued efforts to ban the games.
“While one can question whether these systems meet the traditional definition of gambling — because plaintiffs have ostensibly separated the consideration or ‘bet’ element from the game of chance feature by offering ‘free’ sweepstakes entries — it is clear that the General Assembly considered these sweepstakes systems to be the functional equivalent of gambling, thus presenting the same social evils as those it identified in traditional forms of gambling,” Hudson wrote after a brief summary of the ban’s embattled history, later adding, “What matters is that the General Assembly has identified a threat to the public and acted to address it.”
As to the core of the argument, the Court ruled that the legislation “regulates conduct and not protected speech.”
Hest and Sandhill attorneys, arguing before the court in October, had insisted that the law targeted the entertaining display of the video games and that entertainment in general and video games in particular are protected speech. But Hudson made it clear in the 23-page ruling that operating or placing into operation an electronic machine is
“clearly conduct, not speech.”
“Just as the sweepstakes operates irrespective of the video game outcome, the law operates irrespective of the content of the video game; the statute is concerned only with the attachment of an announcement of a sweepstakes result to the game, a juxtaposition that creates the functional equivalent of a gambling environment and thereby encourages the ills the General Assembly sought to remedy,” she wrote.
Attorney General Roy Cooper told the media that the Supreme Court “got this one right.”
“I stood with law enforcement to push for a ban on this kind of gambling, and our lawyers have argued for years for the right to enforce it,” he told WRAL. Local law enforcement agencies will be on the lookout for a Guilford County judge, which had issued a stay on the statewide ban, to reverse it in light of the Supreme Court ruling.
Dr. Creech said he hopes that stay will be lifted immediately so that North Carolinians will once again see sweepstakes parlors closing their doors. Still, he said as long as the gambling industry is pushing for video sweepstakes, he doesn’t expect the games to make a quick and quiet exit.
“This ruling is a boon to the ban, but it will continue to come under attack from those who want to legalize, tax and try to regulate this industry. We may still see more of that kind of legislation proposed when lawmakers come back into session next month,” he added. “But thanks be to God, those members of the House and Senate that have fought this evil for years will be armed, ready, and emboldened to continue the fight.”