‘Communities should enforce the ban,’ says Ex. Dir.
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
December 12, 2013
Almost a year since enforcement of the most recent ban of video sweepstakes began, some gaming establishments are still plugging along in North Carolina, while hundreds have shut their doors, and one of the companies most active in fighting the ban has exited the state.
“We admit that there hasn’t been a clean sweep of sweepstakes, but certainly we believe the tide has turned, and the ban can and should continue to be enforced,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “International Internet Technologies would never have fled the state last spring if its leaders thought there was hope for ongoing legalized games.”
Noelle Talley, communications director for N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, called the sweepstakes ban a “settled matter,” in light of the state Supreme Court’s “very strong decision” that upheld the law late last year.
Although the Attorney General’s main role was to fight the legal battle to give law enforcement the right to enforce the state law, she said Cooper’s office is continuing to give local agencies advice on how best to go about carrying that out.
“We’re telling them they need to investigate these operations to see what types of games are being played, gather evidence and consult with their local District Attorney about how these violations can be prosecuted,” she said.
The AG’s Office won’t be involved in cases regarding the ban unless they reach the appellate courts.
Recent raids of a half dozen or so sweepstakes parlors in Charlotte, where there were once as many as 200 such establishments, followed months of voluntary closings. At least 210 illegal machines had been confiscated in raids there earlier in the year. Parlors still open this fall received final warning letters in late November demanding that they shut down by Dec. 1 or face legal action.
Further east in Cumberland County, a couple was federally indicted in September for operating illegal gambling machines after the Sheriff’s Office began a crackdown of video sweepstakes back in March. Similar crackdowns came in the state’s mountainous Haywood County in the west where a half dozen or so sweepstakes businesses refused to shut down.
In many other locations, such as Albemarle, where 10 business had been operating, all 10 sweepstakes cafes shut down in January as ordered.
“A lot of them certainly did close their doors,” Talley said. “But, not surprising to us, some decided to stay open and insist that they had made changes and were still within the law…. It’s a very lucrative industry with a lot of money to spend on legal battles, so from their point of view, if they can stay open even a few more days, they are making more money.”
Many of the parlors that have held out claim to have updated software which doesn’t use an entertaining display to reveal wins or that their games involve “skill and dexterity,” and are therefore no longer gambling.
The skill? Raising a finger to touch three matching icons on the screen.
“This just goes to show the ludicrous arguments that some folks will use to try to get around the law, which seems to be the hallmark of this industry,” said Dr. Creech. “We are confident these ‘skill and dexterity’ claims will fail in court.”
In fact, the N.C. Supreme Court ruling upholding the ban specifically addresses plaintiffs’ efforts to “skillfully disguise” conduct to gain First Amendment protection.
“Courts have long held that the State’s police power includes the power to address the health, safety, and welfare concerns presented by gambling operations, as well as activities that implicate the same concerns, even if they cleverly avoid the traditional definition of gambling,” the Court ruled.
Dr. Creech said rather than embrace sweepstakes as have some cities, like Winston-Salem, where they are “regulated” via inspections and licensing fees, the state should steadfastly continue to defend its ban.
“We’re in a much stronger position than we’ve been in years with last December’s Supreme Court ruling upholding the ban,” Dr. Creech said. “Now is not the time to back down or even give the slightest nod to the possibility of legalizing this mess. We can never forget how addictive these games are and what they do to families.”
Nine out of 10 calls to the state’s Council on Problem Gambling hotline are related to sweepstakes machines.
The ban on sweepstakes, passed in 2007, was tweaked in 2010 and virtually nullified by a series of lower court rulings. But those rulings were overturned in December of 2012 by the state’s High Court. Shortly thereafter, the Internet Based Sweepstakes Operators, which represents the industry, predicted that 90 percent of the gaming parlors would shut down voluntarily.
“We’re thankful that over the past year, many of these folks took the N.C. Supreme Court ruling to heart and moved on to a different business or moved out of the state. We’re especially glad to see International Internet Technologies, which had fought the ban in the courts, decide that it would no longer operate here,” Dr. Creech said. “We want to make it known everywhere that video sweepstakes are not welcome in North Carolina.”
Take Christian Action: If Sweepstakes Parlors are still operating in your town, city, or county. Please do the following:
- Contact the Christian Action League. CAL wants to develop and keep a record of where the sweepstakes industry is still currently operating. Please be prepared to give us the name of the Sweepstakes Parlor and its address. To contact the Christian Action League you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org; or you can phone us at 919.787.0606.
- Contact your local Sheriff’s office. Ask them to investigate to see what kinds of games are being played, gather evidence, and consult with their district D.A. to determine how any violations may be prosecuted. Local agencies should know the current prohibition on these places is strong and has been upheld by the North Carolina Supreme Court.