By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Video sweepstakes was obviously on the minds of Tar Heel lawmakers this week with one Representative filing a bill to tighten loopholes in the state’s ban on the games and another suggesting that they be legalized and managed by the N.C. Lottery Commission.
Rep. Ray Rapp (D-Haywood) has vowed never to give up the fight against the “crack cocaine” of gambling that entices many of those who can least afford it. His latest bill, the second filed in the General Assembly this year to help shore up last session’s video sweepstakes ban, includes a sweeping 14-point section to make it clear that any electronic device “used by sweepstakes entrants as part of the promotion, entry, prize reveal or any other action or activity relating to the conduct of the sweepstakes” is illegal. This section clarifies that it applies to all electronic machines — no matter if stand-alone or server based, no matter if simulating a game terminal or using software to determine prize value, no matter if prizes are predetermined or stored up until time to be revealed and no matter if it requires purchase of a related product with or without legitimate value.
The bill (HB 226) also has language to clearly define “enter”, “prize” and “sweepstakes” and further explains that it prevents use of these machines by sweepstakes entrants and does not apply to a device used by a sweepstakes promoter to read a customer’s “identifying information on a magnetic stripe or bar code.” In this way, the bill would not interfere with legitimate sweepstakes games like those found on fastfood soda cups that might involve a cashier scanning a code to “ring up” a free order of fries or a sandwich discount.
Similar to Rapp’s bill, but not as detailed, is legislation proposed by Sen. Don Vaughan (D-Guilford) on the first day of the session. Broaden Sweepstakes Law (SB 3), awaiting action in the Committee on Judiciary II, also hinges on the idea of preventing “any person to operate, or place into operation, an electronic machine or device to conduct or promote a sweepstakes.”
Both bills include the same consequences: Class 2 misdemeanor for the first offense, Class H felony for the second, and Class G felony for the third or if the offense involves five or more machines. Both bills also acknowledge that they would not apply to gambling on Indian lands authorized by the state’s Tribal Gaming Compact.
On the opposite side of the gaming spectrum, Rep. Bill Owens (D-Currituck) seems to have taken up where former Sen. Julia Boseman left off, pushing the idea of legalizing what he refers to as VLTs (video lottery terminals) in places that have alcohol permits and putting them under the control of the N.C. State Lottery Commission. His bill (HB 228) would let the Commission handle licensure of manufacturers, retailers and operators, make rules regarding type and number of terminals allowed, determine game types and wager amounts and set up procedures for determining net terminal income so that proceeds from the gambling could be shared with the state. The bill would channel 46 percent of revenues to the Lottery Fund with all but 8 percent of that to be directed toward the university and community college systems for scholarships, construction and renovations.
“Needless to say, legalizing video poker again is the last thing we need in North Carolina,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We are glad to see Sen. Vaughan, Rep. Rapp and others standing firm against gambling and willing to keep working to make the video sweepstakes ban stronger than ever.”
He said the Christian Action League would continue to monitor the bills as they move through committee and keep Christians across the state informed on what they can do to help.