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News State / Region Sweepstakes parlors still testing legality

Some remain open in defiance of deadline for closure.

Late last week, sweepstakes gambling establishments in Macon County re-opened their doors after a mandatory state shutdown on Jan. 3. While several establishments have begun operating again, according to Macon County Sheriff Robbie Holland, they may be operating illegally.

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 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.

Bonfoey referred to North Carolina General Statute 14-306.4 which was upheld by the state's Supreme Court which clearly states that while anyone can conduct a sweepstakes and anyone can offer video games, no one can combine the two, and to do so is illegal.

Subsection C of the state statute also says “It is the intent of this section to prohibit any mechanism that seeks to avoid application of this section through the use of any subterfuge or pretense whatsoever, which Bonfoey referred to again to reiterate that any establishment combining the two is operating outside the bounds of the law.

Safari Sweepstakes on 441S. proclaims to all who pass that it is, in fact, open for business. A request for a delay in the closing of the sweepstakes parlors was denied solidifying the date for closure as Jan. 3. Proprietors, however, say they have found a loophole and remain open in defiance of the State Supreme Court ruling. Photos by Brittney ParkerSweepstakes establishments across the state are claiming that since the Jan. 3 shutdown date, software companies have altered the machines bringing them in compliance with the law.

Sheriff Holland confirmed that sweepstakes owners in the county presented his department with a letter stating that they will continue operating under the change of a pre-reveal system, which displays how much money a player will win or lose before the game is played.

According to Bonfoey, regardless of software changes, the ruling by the Supreme Court is clear as to the legality of the operation of the establishments. “It is up to law enforcement to enforce the statute upheld by the state's Supreme Court,” he said.

Sheriff Holland said that his department is currently looking into the reports of the establishments reopening and is working with the District Attorney's office to determine a legal means of actions to proceed.

County Commissioner Kevin Corbin said that it was his understanding that the Supreme Court's most recent ruling was intended to prevent further loopholes from occuring.

“It appears that the courts are closing the loopholes. At least that is what Sheriff Holland has communicated to me,” said Corbin. “Their intention was for them to close, not to re-group. We do not have any jurisdiction here, but it has been an interesting series of events to watch.”

If the Sheriff’s Department finds the establishments to be in violation of the law, the first offense is a misdemeanor, and the second offense will be considered a felony.

The ban on the sweepstakes parlors is the most recent amendment to House Bill 80, which was first established in 1791 by the General Assembly to state, “all public gaming tables are destructive of the morality of the inhabitants of this State, and tend greatly to the encouragement of vice and dissipation”( Law 1791, Chapter 5).

Since 1791, the Bill has been ratified, first in 1937 to include the prohibition of the use of slot machines and again in 2000 and 2006 to prohibit the use of video poker machines.


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