Sweepstakes sites close
Local Internet sweepstakes cafes across Thomasville sat empty Thursday as a state ban went into effect prohibiting the use of online games that pay cash prizes.
Locations such as the Thomasville Biz Center in the Southgate Shopping Center and 1622 Sweepstakes in Midway Plaza were closed Thursday with both establishments posting signs on the door stating intentions to reopen at a later date.
On Dec. 14, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld a law which ruled sweepstakes machines as a form of gambling. This overturned a Court of Appeals ruling in March that deemed the ban unconstitutional on the basis of freedom of speech. The ban went into effect Thursday, placing the matter into the hands of local enforcement agencies.
"We hadn't made a final decision yet," said Capt. Darren Smith with Thomasville Police Department on Thursday. "We're waiting on the opinion and the law enforcement guidance from the attorney general's office. Until the attorney general sends something out specifically telling us what we can and can't do we have to wait on that.
We're not out kicking down doors."
Sheriff David Grice said deputies will start contacting establishments with video sweepstakes that the ban is in effect. A first offense for violation of the ban will result in a misdemeanor with the second bringing a felony charge.
"We're going to be sending some people around with letters to notify these folks," Grice said. "After that, the next time we visit, they're subject to enforcement. The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled unanimously that sweepstakes were illegal. If they come up saying this isn't really sweepstakes because this game does so and so, we're going to let the judge decide that."
The ruling becomes official once the Supreme Court issues its mandate back to the Court of Appeals, which is expected to happen today, according to Noelle Talley, public information officer with the N.C. Department of Justice.
Jeff Douglas, service manager at Operators Distributing, Inc., said some sweepstakes owners are trying to implement a reveal system in the programming in order to stay in business. The reveal system shows customers what they can win or whether or not they'll win before playing, but Douglas isn't sure if that will impact the ban. Operators Distributing services and provides juke boxes and arcade games, machines found in many Internet sweepstakes cafes.
Douglas fears the ban will have a rippling effect.
"We don't own or run any, we just support them because it helps our business," said Douglas. "It's definitely going to hurt our business. They're saying 10 to 20,000 people across the state are going to be out of a job today."
Rep. Jerry Dockham said he would be in favor of perhaps legalizing the games and taxing it. Dockham said the state already accepted gambling when it legalized the lottery in 2005.
"It's something we need to think about with this economy.," Dockham said. "I don't know what the attraction is to it, but a lot of people seem to enjoy doing it. I don't know if this is that big a deal or not. If we can find a way to make it legal and the state can make some money on it, the people seem to enjoy doing that, I don't know if that would be a bad thing to do. We have the lottery, that''s a form of gambling."
Video poker was banned by the State Supreme Court in 2007
Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or firstname.lastname@example.org.