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News Local sweepstakes establishments busted for continuing to operate

A joint investigation between the Macon County Sheriff’s Department and Franklin Police Department led to the discovery of illegal sweepstakes machines at two locations last Friday.

According to Macon County Sheriff Robbie Holland, the Dowdle Mountain Pit Stop and Pots of Gold Sweepstakes Parlor at the Georgia/ North Carolina state line were found to be operating sweepstakes slot machines and employees at the two local establishments were given citations for illegally operating poker machines.

Holland stated that the investigation was launched after both agencies received complaints that the establishments had reopened and were running the machines despite a recent North Carolina Supreme Court ruling deeming the machines illegal.

Officers were sent into the businesses to actively take part in playing the machines and Holland says they were determined to be illegal.

Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court ruled the sweepstakes machines as an illegal form of gambling, and regardless of opinion, Holland says they must enforce the law.

The Sheriff's Department issued letters to all sweepstakes establishments in mid-February informing them that law enforcement now has full power to enforce the ban on sweepstakes games.

The letter cited the most recent ruling in Davidson County that allowed certain types of gaming machines to operate had been rescinded and that, “There is no legal barrier that prohibits law enforcement from criminally charging individuals for violations of the video sweepstakes ban ... I am providing you this letter to ensure there is no misunderstanding regarding the position of the Macon County Sheriff's Office with respect to those statutes.” Holland's letter continues by encouraging business owners who believe their establishments are legal, to consult legal counsel. “Also, if you have hypothetical questions regarding software changes or other modifications to your machines that may bring what was previously illegal into legal compliance, then that is also an issue for you to discuss with your own independent legal counsel,” stated Holland.

North Carolina's Supreme Court deemed the sweepstakes parlors illegal in December and ordered a Jan. 3 shutdown. Members of the sweepstakes industry requested that the state's Supreme Court delay the Jan. 3 closing date to allow time to appeal to the United States Supreme Court, a request which was shortly dismissed.

In the past, when laws have identified the establishments as illegal, software companies have tweaked their software to stay one step ahead of the law, but according to N.C. District Attorney Mike Bonfoey, the Supreme Court's latest ruling was designed to prevent even new software from finding loopholes to allow them to operate.

According to Holland, the employees working at the time of the raid will have to appear in court on March 21. The Sheriff’s Department says the investigation is ongoing.

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