Cumberland authorities raid sweepstakes parlors
Posted March 26, 2013
Fayetteville, N.C. — Three months after the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the state's ban on video sweepstakes machines, Cumberland County authorities began cracking down Tuesday on sweepstakes businesses.
Deputies raided three Little Vegas Sweepstakes City parlors in Cumberland County, seizing machines and arresting the owner and a few employees.
"We had visited this place before. We knew they were illegal, and they didn't make any bones about it," Sheriff Earl "Moose" Butler said.
Some of the machines removed from the parlors were old-style video poker and keno machines, which have been outlawed in North Carolina for years.
Authorities said they waited to enforce the law so they could review the court ruling and state law and hear sweepstakes' operators arguments.
"We have done everything we could to make sure we're doing the right thing," Butler said. "We're not trying to harass anybody. The message has been out there."
Sweepstakes operators have been trying to stay in business by changing the software that runs the machines.
State law prohibits the "entertaining display" of prizes on the games, so games now feature a "pre-reveal" system. After customers pay, their winnings or losses appear on the screen before they choose to spin.
"The Supreme Court’s ruling is pretty inclusive," Hope Mills Police Chief Joel Acciardo said. "If you actually read it, it doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for software changes. It pretty much says it’s illegal."
Down the road from one of the Little Vegas parlors, the doors were locked and the room dark at Blazin' Sweepstakes. At Palace Sweepstakes, a note on the door says it's closed for "system updates."
"I don’t see why the state would allow it to even open if it was illegal," said Martin Pierce, a would-be customer for Little Vegas.
Pierce said he has won $500 to $600 playing the online games. "I got to find a different hobby, I guess," he said.
Operating sweepstakes machines is a misdemeanor for a first offense and a felony for additional offenses. Butler said players like Pierce also could be cited.
"We will do what it takes to put an end to this criminal activity," the sheriff said, noting that the crackdown would continue.