By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
December 5, 2014
CLINTON – Sampson County Commissioners voted unanimously at their December meeting on Monday evening not to allow sweepstakes gaming in unincorporated areas of the county.
The Christian Action League had previously been contacted about the matter a month ago and was providing direction for opponents regarding a proposal that would have amended the county’s zoning ordinance to remove electronic gaming as a special use in C-Commercial districts. The Board of Commissioners had included such forms of gaming as a special use several years ago. Moreover, a proponent, Mr. Sawan Rcom, had petitioned the the Commissioners to rezone 1 ½ acres at 1935 Autry Highway in Clinton, formerly known as the Blue Diamond property, from I-Industrial to C-Commercial to allow for a sweepstakes gambling parlor at that location.
Numerous concerned citizen Christians contacted Commissioners concerning the proposal.
According to the Sampson Independent, Commissioner Harry Parker expressed during the meeting, “My constituents called me and let me know how they felt about this. They’re the ones I serve. I can’t support this situation.” Commissioner Sue Lee expressed similar concerns, saying, “I too received several calls from my constituents, none in favor of it. I’m afraid of a situation where, at best, it could be illegal.”
The North Carolina General Assembly voted to ban video poker in 2006. But the industry came back in the form of sweepstakes gaming shortly thereafter.
In sweepstakes gaming, patrons purchase pre-paid cards giving them Internet time with the opportunity to win cash and prizes via games on a computer screen.
Lawmakers deemed the scheme by sweepstakes operators as just another form of video poker and every bit deleterious in its affects, banning it in 2010.
Since the ban went into place the industry has vigorously fought it in court. Nevertheless, in 2012, North Carolina’s State Supreme Court upheld the ban.
Recently, the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld the convictions of a sweepstakes owner and his manager from Edgecombe County. The two had argued the sweepstakes games they offered didn’t fall under the state’s current ban, which has been a common legal end-run contention around the law against sweepstakes parlors. Nevertheless, the ruling by the state’s appellate court further established that sweepstakes establishments run afoul of the law.
The Clinton City Council had placed a moratorium on sweepstakes gaming last month. The rezoning decision by the Sampson County Commissioners essentially works the same way, prohibiting sweepstakes establishments in unincorporated parts of the county.
The Sampson Independent also notes Lyndia Sessoms was a lead opponent against any sweepstakes gaming during the Commissioners hearing on the issue. The Independent reports:
“Sessoms offered documents from District Attorney Ernie Lee, the N.C. Court of Appeals, the N.C. Supreme Court and newspaper articles from various N.C. counties that have enforced the state’s law against gaming.
“Sessoms said she made inquiries to various counties asking why they chose to get rid of gaming operations.
“Every county I called, I got the same answer. Their response was ‘it’s against the law in North Carolina and we are enforcing the laws,’ said Sessoms. ‘I called the Attorney General’s Office and… (a representative) said sweepstakes gambling is not legal in North Carolina.’
“She spoke with Sen. Brent Jackson and Ernie Lee, who expressed the same sentiment, with Lee noting he had taken several cases to court. Sessoms said she asked whether the District Attorney would prosecute cases in Sampson.
“He said if a (law enforcement officer) makes an arrest, he would prosecute as he has in Onslow and Duplin Counties,” said Sessoms. “I just beseech you as elected officials to obey the laws of North Carolina, which state that sweepstakes gambling is illegal.”
Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League said that if every citizen Christian in North Carolina would show the kind of tenacity and moral courage Lyndia Sessoms has shown, we could turn our state and nation around for Christ. We most certainly could get rid of this insidious industry, he added.
In a recent email to the office of the League, Sessoms wrote, “I truly appreciate the guidance and encouragement Rev. Mark Creech gave me during this ordeal with the Sampson County Commissioners. The phone numbers and contact persons provided by Rev. Creech helped get the information out to those persons who care about Sampson County and were willing to take a stand in the public forum.”
Dr. Creech added, “If there were ever a situation clearly demonstrating the critical and strategic presence of the Christian Action League’s ministry, it’s this circumstance. All glory and honor be to God. May God bless the people who spoke out. And may he richly bless the people of Sampson County.