Judge denies injunction against sheriff, police chief

Mar. 13, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

A judge upheld local law enforcement leaders’ enforcement of the state’s Internet sweepstakes and video gambling ban Monday — denying an injunction request by challengers. 

Southern Pines-based Sandhill Amusements Inc. and Lee County-based J&F Amusements Inc. filed a civil lawsuit seeking an injunction against Lee County Sheriff Tracy Carter and Sanford Police Chief Ronnie Yarborough in late February. which claimed the companies were not violating the state’s anti-Internet gambling law because their games rely on a participant’s skill and dexterity, and that the games do not mimic poker or lottery games. Judge Michael Morgan issued a verbal order during a hearing Monday afternoon denying the injunction at the Lee County Courthouse. City of Sanford Attorney Susan Patterson said a written order is set to be finalized in the coming days.

“It was an appropriate ruling given information presented in the court filing and information given to the judge,” Patterson said Tuesday. “It also shows our law enforcement were doing their jobs and were seeking to carry out their duties as sworn law enforcement officers.”

Representatives from Sandhill Amusements and J&F Amusements did not return phone calls to The Herald Tuesday, but argued that a Jan. 24 cease and desist letter from Carter and Yarborough forced the companies “to discontinue their relationships with retailers in Lee County who had been willing to sell prepaid gift cards ... .”

The North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the 2010 state law ban on video sweepstakes in December, overruling an injunction filed by the Internet sweepstakes industry.

According to court documents filed by Sandhill and J&F, “Plaintiffs have suffered substantial and incalculable financial losses as a result of the cease and desist demand and the threat of prosecution.” 

Sandhill and J&F operate kiosks that sell prepaid gift cards from the online vendor, gift-surplus.com, and the user of the gift cards can purchase a variety of products from the website, according to court documents. In order to market the prepaid gift cards, a user can participate in a promotion awards program — or sweepstakes — through five games played at the kiosks. There are eight ways to participate in the awards program, including purchasing a gift card. To win, game participants must line up and match winning symbol combinations by raising or lowering their symbols in the desired direction at the kiosk.

If an injunction had been filed against Carter and Yarborough, it would have prevented the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and Sanford Police Department from enforcing the state anti-gambling law, said Lee County Interim Attorney Neil Yarborough.

“It’s a great example of City Attorney Susan Patterson and the county attorney’s office working together with the cooperation of the sheriff and the chief of police to protect the citizens of our community,” Neil Yarborough said. 

Lee County Manager John Crumpton said the city and county attorney did an excellent job working on the issue in a short amount of time.

“We are glad the injunction was not enforced,” Crumpton said. “It shows the sheriff was doing what he is legally responsible to do, and the police chief.”

Carter said he wasn’t surprised by the lawsuit. but he’ll continue to enforce the state statues.

“We are trying to follow the law,” he said. “That is my only position in this thing; we are trying to follow the law.”

Ronnie Yarborough agreed, adding that he and Carter will continue to enforce state laws within Sanford and Lee County.