Video sweepstakes facing action from law enforcement

Dec. 30, 2012 @ 05:00 AM

Local law enforcement officers are set to began enforcement of a 2010 ban of video sweepstakes as early next week — shutting down dozens of Internet cafes around the county.

The North Carolina Supreme Court recently upheld the 2010 state law ban on video sweepstakes, overruling an injunction filed by the Internet sweepstakes industry. According to a memo from the N.C. Sheriff’s Association to law enforcement agencies, enforcement can resume Jan. 3.

Lee County Sheriff’s Office Capt. John Holly said he’s recently received calls from owners asking when enforcement will began so they can remove their games.

“It will be a case by case as to what can happen,” Holly said. “This doesn’t mean we’ll do these things, but if we determine you are in violation of the gaming statute we can charge the person in control or whoever is operating the business. We can also seize the machines. That doesn’t mean we will do that, but we do have those options.”

The Internet sweepstakes ban is a hot-botton issue, Holly said, but officers will ensure the owners are in compliance.

“One thing the public should know is we are not making the laws,” he said. “And we have nothing to do with the laws enacted. Our duty is to make sure the law is upheld and we are obligated and sworn to do so.”

Sanford Police Department Capt. Daniel Kehagias agreed, saying the law enforcement officers have no personal opinions on the matter.

There are some in the sweepstakes industry who will try to alter the games to fit a legal loophole, he said, like they’ve done in the past.

Holly said both agencies will be looking for these modifications and look to the state for their guidance on the issue.   

Sammy Hales, owner of the Tiki Hut, is removing the handful of games he has in his bar to be in compliance with the law.

“They are coming out Monday or Tuesday,” Hales said. “I feel like people are going to find a way to play them or someone will find a loophole in the law.”

Taking the machines out of the bar won’t hurt business, Hale said, but people have enjoyed playing them.

Winner’s Circle Manager Marian Gholson said she’s not happy they are being forced to close, but does intend to alter their games.

“I think it will make a big impact on the town,” she said. “You are looking at losing several employees.”

Until there is a change in the law, the business intends to remain closed, Gholson said.

In recent months, Sanford City Council held a public hearing and debated taxing these businesses to generate extra revenue. According to documents provided during city council meetings, there are more than 25 Internet sweepstakes cafes within city limits and they employ from 80 to 120 people.

Several business owners and people interested in the Internet sweepstakes industry asked the council to not tax the businesses or to do so fairly. Steve Malloy and David Nestor, both of Adcock & Associates Real Estate, said during a September meeting that landlords would lose a substantial amount of money if these businesses left.

Taxing these businesses has brought in a lot of money for various municipalities, said Sanford Mayor Cornelia Olive Thursday and she expressed her concern with legislating morality.

“When these things came to Sanford, it was not my favorite business,” Olive said. “But, at the same time, they were renting property that may have been empty for years and hiring local people. To me, that was a huge plus.”

Lee County Commissioner Chairman Charlie Parks said he expects the county will be in compliance with the law and will uphold the ban.

“There are a lot of moral issues at hand,” Parks said. “There may be some people who lose their jobs, but I have never seen any good for anybody in gambling, You have people losing their homes and families.”

The people who may lose their jobs, he said, will hopefully to able to gain new skills and training through Central Carolina Community College or other programs.