By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Liquor sales at distilleries, non-profit casino nights and legalized video sweepstakes could all become reality in North Carolina if proposed bills make their way through the General Assembly.
“All three of these propositions would be bad news for the state, which is one reason we’re keeping an eye on these bills and hope to see them die in committee,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina.
Internet Sweepstakes Gaming
Unfortunately, the sweepstakes bill may have gained traction this week when Gov. Bev Perdue held a press conference to announce her support for taxing the gambling machines to generate money for schools. Although she insisted she didn’t like sweepstakes, the governor said until court rulings are overturned to make a ban possible, the state should “tax the heck out of them and regulate them.”
But Dr. Creech said North Carolina should steer clear from this type of ill-gotten gains.
“The idea here is to tax it, legitimize it, and have cities and towns, and heaven forbid, schools start relying on that income. Then, there will be no way to get it stopped, regardless of court rulings,” he said. “The Governor’s plan and House Bill 1180 are both extremely dangerous because they are vehicles used by gambling promoters to wear down lawmakers. The pitch is that since the Legislature has already had such a hard time banning video sweepstakes, lawmakers might as well just go ahead and give it their blessing so they can tax it and the state can get its cut.”
Setting a license fee at $2,000 a year, House Bill, H 1180 – Video Sweepstakes Entertainment Tax would also levy a $1,000 per sweepstakes machine tax and a 4 percent tax on gross receipts from the gambling. Proceeds would be earmarked for local law enforcement and education, and counties and cities would also be allowed to impose their own taxes and privilege fees.
A 2010 study by the North Carolina Education Lottery reported that the state could bring in some $350 million a year from a tax on sweepstakes.
Even so, the North Carolina Budget & Tax Center called the Governor’s idea “fiscally irresponsible.” And Dr. Creech said no amount of funding for education or anything else would make legalizing video sweepstakes a good idea.
“We’ve been down this road before with video poker and found that there was no way to regulate it, which is why our Legislature banned it in the first place,” he said.
“Every sheriff in the state signed a petition wanting it outlawed because it yields gambling addicts and corruption at every turn. I pray that our lawmakers’ memories don’t fail them when it comes to this issue and that we remember the lessons our past has taught us.”
On the alcohol front, Senate Bill, S 713 – Spirituous Liquor Sales – Distilleries, passed by the upper chamber last spring and residing in the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development, would allow distilleries to sell their liquor to tourists on site and thereby circumvent the entire ABC system.
“North Carolina’s ABC system works well to create a remarkable balance in protecting the public’s health and garnering revenue for the state,” said Dr. Creech. “Spirits, because of their high alcohol content, are better kept within the confines of stricter sales parameters.”
He said for the sake of a few distilleries and their tourists, the bill would undermine the principles of the ABC system, because it would allow sales outside the ABC store a method of sales which was never voted on at the ballot box, and also create an exception to ABC laws.
“In the 14 years that I have been addressing alcohol policy in this state, I have yet to see one occasion where an exception in our ABC laws did not result in some other business establishment wanting the same or a similar exception and arguing for it on the basis of exceptions previously made,” he said. “It’s like a crack in a windshield. It may seem immeasurably small, but over time it spreads until the windshield is severely compromised.”
Casino Night for Non-Profits
Another bill that would allow the camel’s nose into the tent so to speak, is Casino Night for Nonprofits, House Bill, H 1188 – Casino Night for Non Profits. Sponsored by Rep. Bill Owens (D-Camden), the bill would allow nonprofit organizations to hold up to four “casino nights” per year with full-fledged gambling — roulette, blackjack, poker, pull tabs, craps, chuck-a-luck, keno and more — as well as the serving of alcohol. Rather than using cash, patrons would use tokens to help raise money for the charity and could win prizes worth up to $500.
The bill comes on the heels of the General Assembly’s controversial approval of expanding gambling on Cherokee lands.
Although perhaps less egregious than another “casino night” bill filed in the spring of 2011, the bill would still be disastrous, Creech said.
“This bill has us wondering how much more it would lower the bar to the inherently immoral industry of gambling,” said Dr. Creech. “It’s like Bill Brooks of the North Carolina Family Policy Council has said about these proposed casino nights before — they are quite simply ‘training wheels’ for full fledged gambling.”
“Do we believe that if the forms of gambling in this legislation were to become popular setting the stage for legalization somewhere down the road, do we somehow believe that these games will be less predatory?” Rev. Creech challenged.
House Bill 1188 has been referred to the Committee on Judiciary Subcommittee B.