By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
Weeks after a split decision of the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled them legal, video sweepstakes parlors are once again spreading like wildfire in North Carolina and drawing more residents, especially middle-age and older women, into the harmful addiction.
“Media reports that call video sweepstakes ‘harmless entertainment’ or more recently ‘gambling lite’ are turning a blind eye to the personal and societal costs of this from of gaming,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Now, the industry brags that it’s drawing in more and more women. And women are already more likely to be battling poverty than men.”
According to the Internet Based Sweepstakes Organization, 80 percent of the customers at the state’s 700 to 800 sweepstakes parlors are female. And of those, 80 percent are over 40.
“Anyone who wants to see where North Carolina is headed with sweepstakes should look to Florida where calls to the gambling help line are on the rise and the majority of calls are from this exact demographic group — women over 40 who play slot machines,” said Dr. Creech.
Research shows that women, who are prone to so-called “escape gambling” tend to start the habit later in life than men, but that their gambling problems progress two to four times faster.
“Many of these women are not the regular image of a gambler. They are mostly recent gamblers, often retired mothers that went to gamble a little, got distracted, and came out with a huge headache. They are bewildered and can’t believe what has happened to their lives,” wrote researcher Hermano Tavares, MD, PhD., with the Addiction Center at the University of Calgary in Alberta.
He went on to say that women generally have access to a narrower range of gambling outlets but that the games they choose tend to be most addictive, including video lottery terminals.
Already in North Carolina, nearly 9 out of 10 calls to the state’s Council on Problem Gambling hotline are related to sweepstakes machines, Gary Gray, the council’s director told the media late last year.
“For the most part, these sweepstakes places, they’re kind of like crack cocaine. It’s just horrible,” he said.
Whether its men or women fueling the growth, the number of video sweepstakes parlors opening across the Tar Heel state is not surprising considering the state’s past relationship with the games. The Legislature banned video poker in 2006 and has tightened the ban at least twice since, but operators setting up their businesses to masquerade as venues for buying phone or computer time have updated software to circumvent the rules each time they have been modified. The industry was poised for expansion the minute the Appeals Court ruling was announced last month, despite the fact that the case has been appealed to the N.C. Supreme Court.
Regardless, the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association considers the sweepstakes cafes the same as video poker machines.
“It’s legalized stealing from people who don’t really know they’re being stolen from,” Eddie Caldwell, Sheriff’s Association executive vice president, told the Virginian-Pilot last month.
Whatever they’re called, criminal activity, including money laundering for drug dealing, tends to accompany the gambling outlets, law enforcement representatives report. Just last month nine people were charged in connection with robberies at five sweepstakes parlors in Greensboro.
Meanwhile, municipalities have enacted ordinances to limit sweepstakes parlor locations and levy privilege license fees.
While the Christian Action League urged cities to adopt any and all regulations that would curtail the industry, Dr. Creech also warned against their embracing the businesses as revenue producers, reminding them that the societal cost of gambling in their communities would far exceed any budget boost from sweepstakes parlor taxes.
In recent media reports, Chase Brooks, president of the Internet Based Sweepstakes Organization, who has pushed for the state to legalize and tax the games, has called the games “modern day bingo” and said he believes they are meeting a “great need.”
Dr. Creech said unless there is a great need to separate Moms and Dads from the paychecks they need to purchase groceries, he would strongly disagree.
“The industry can paint this however they want, but the bottom line is that gambling hurts families and communities, and video sweepstakes is gambling, – it is unquestionably predatory.” he said. “Our hope is that the state Supreme Court will rule quickly on the case and in favor of the ban so this trend can be reversed and problem gamblers can get the help they need.”