‘It can’t happen soon enough,’ says Executive Director
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — It will be “Game Over” for video sweepstakes operators in North Carolina in less than three weeks, as a law against the practice goes into effect Dec. 1. At least that’s the hope of anti-gambling forces and lawmakers who passed the video sweepstakes ban last summer. But enforcing the new law won’t be easy.
“It will be an additional burden on our 86 field agents,” said Allen Page, deputy director for operations with the state’s Alcohol Law Enforcement Division. Although local police and sheriffs’ offices across the state have jurisdiction to put the law into effect in their areas, the ALE is responsible for enforcing tobacco, controlled substance and gambling laws statewide as well as taking legal action on nuisance establishments.
Page said ALE attorneys are evaluating the new statute and that his staff is developing a thorough investigative and enforcement strategy.
“We are going to be very clandestine in our enforcement efforts,” said Page, who declined to give more details as to what owners of sweepstakes parlors can expect.
What ALE is not expecting from them is voluntary compliance, especially since the industry has, in Page’s words, “gone unchecked for two years because of injunctions and temporary restraining orders.”
While the state’s 2007 ban on video poker sent some game promoters packing, those who decided to fight the ban or exploit its loopholes helped create an atmosphere of confusion surrounding the legality of the sweepstakes. Two ill-conceived judicial rulings made matters worse as they effectively tied the hands of law enforcement agencies and allowed hundreds of new video casinos to pop up across the state.
Even though writers of the new video sweepstakes ban pored over its wording to make the law’s intent crystal clear, gambling promoters are already claiming they’ve found a way around it.
The Internet-Based Sweepstakes Organization, led by parlor owner Chase Brooks, told News 14 in September that the sweepstakes cafes are still operating and have no plans to shut down. Brooks told the media that the manufacturers of games had studied the law, applied it to software and were beginning to make adjustments in the games to keep them legal.
Further, a lawsuit has been filed in Guilford County questioning how the state can allow printed sweepstakes games while banning electronic ones. And yet another suit, filed by sweepstakes software companies, is challenging local business license fees imposed on the game parlors, claiming that the Internet cafés are the only form of Internet access that some customers have to use e-mail, look for jobs, etc. They say the fees in Fayetteville, Lumberton, Pembroke, Morganton and Wilmington violate the Internet Tax Freedom Act.
“These claims are ridiculous as is anyone who believes that video sweepstakes players are truly just buying Internet time rather than gambling,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
Meanwhile video sweepstakes promoters are still pushing for the state to legalize and tax the gambling, a plan they say could bring in some half a billion dollars a year.
“These last-ditch efforts to work around the ban don’t surprise us. This industry’s leaders have proven they will continue to defy whatever laws are passed, all the while urging lawmakers to trust them and promote them as a funding source for state coffers,” said the Rev. Creech. “All we can say is Godspeed to the ALE and other law enforcement agencies who will enforce this ban. With the rising number of gamblers becoming addicted every day, it can’t happen soon enough.”