By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
October 17, 2019
“It’s been the lump of dung that won’t flush,” said Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “But I think we’re winning what has been a valiant effort to keep gambling of this nature from spreading across the state.”
Rev. Creech was referring to a ruling on Tuesday by the N.C. Court of Appeals, which struck down video sweepstakes gaming.
Although the state legislature has passed laws over and again to ban these games, they still operate in some places.
Such was the case in Onslow County, where Sandhills Amusements of Southern Pines was operating sweepstakes games. In 2013, the Onslow County Sheriff’s Department confiscated the company’s machines running in that county, arguing their games violated state laws against gambling.
In response, Sandhills Amusements sued the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office, countering their games were not illegal. They won their lawsuit but later lost when their case reached the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2015. The state’s High Court said clearly that the games violated the law.
So the industry adjusted the software on their games and asserted that their new games were legal under the letter of the law. They continued to operate in various counties, usually in convenience stores, alcohol joints, and venues like sweepstakes cafes.
Sandhills Amusements, which have been operating sweepstakes games not just in Onslow County, but in other places around the state, argued their latest games involved an element of skill and dexterity and were not given to chance. Thus, the games were allegedly legal.
Again, the matter came before the courts, and in 2017, Superior Court Judge Eber T. Watson ruled in Onslow County that the industry’s new games did meet federal and state regulations and were consistent with being a legitimate sweepstakes business.
A three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals, however, on Tuesday disagreed with Watson’s decision and overturned it, clarifying once again that sweepstakes gaming in North Carolina is against the law.
In February of this year, Fox 46 in Charlotte did a hidden camera investigation into sweepstakes gaming and noted:
“Some police agencies are uncertain whether or not to go after these gaming parlors.” But “[l]ast November, the State Bureau of Investigation, which enforces anti-gambling laws, raided several businesses, confiscated games and arrested at least nine people. In a news release, the SBI warned that games involving ‘financial wagers, elements of chance, and the lure of winning cash’ are ‘illegal.’”
Rev. Creech said, “The twists and turns, the highs and lows, the loop de-loops with video sweepstakes have been dizzying. Clearing our state of this pernicious industry has been like playing Whack-a-Mole. But rulings like the one this week should clarify to Sheriffs and District Attorneys that wherever these machines are operating, you can seize them and you can prosecute the operators with confidence. Moreover, I would encourage supporters of the Christian Action League, if sweepstakes parlors are operating in your community; you should press local law enforcement and DAs to act. These businesses are conducting a gambling enterprise that violates the law!”
Sweepstakes gaming has been referred to as “the crack cocaine of gambling.” Gary Gray, executive director of North Carolina’s Council on Problem Gambling, has said that nearly 9 in 10 calls to the council’s helpline were related to sweepstakes machines.
James Meachem, managing director of SweepsCoach, a Sacramento, California company that helped to start sweepstakes cafes once admitted that the businesses cater primarily to two demographics: the old and the poor.
“These computerized games are designed to separate the fool from his money,” said Rev. Creech. He added that he has concerns that certain Republican lawmakers are entertaining notions about regulating sweepstakes gaming, claiming it’s too much like the “Wild, Wild West” at the present.
“I have it on good authority legislation to regulate the games might be taken-up before lawmakers go home this year. I have to wonder if regulation is actually their motive. They argue they want to keep it from spreading, but make no mistake; they also want to capture that revenue. Moreover, once it’s legal in any form, deep-pocketed donors from the industry will give to campaign coffers to protect or enlarge their investment,” said Rev. Creech. “This recent decision by the state Court of Appeals ought to quash any ideas about regulation. There’s no need to regulate. The law has withstood the scrutiny of the courts, and the authorities should do their jobs by enforcing the law. These businesses are illegal, and they should be run out of Dodge.”