WRAL Investigates

Gambling becoming a safer bet in N.C.

Posted January 27, 2010

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— Once taboo in North Carolina, gambling appears to be a growth industry.

The casino on the Cherokee reservation in the North Carolina mountains, which already draws 2 million people a year, is expanding, as is the North Carolina Education Lottery, which will join the Mega Millions multi-state lottery game next week.

As law enforcement waits for legal guidance – a challenge to the state ban on video poker will likely go before the Supreme Court this year – the gaming industry continues building its market share in the state. The newest frontier is in so-called sweepstakes cafes, which are opening across North Carolina.

Sweepstakes cafe Sweepstakes cafes opening across N.C.

"It's like slot machines – bottom line – but I enjoy it," said Jerry Carroll, who frequents a sweepstakes cafe in Fuquay-Varina.

Despite the video poker ban, law enforcement doesn't bother the owners of such establishments, which sell players Internet or cell phone time for a variety of games.

"There's nothing going on here that is deemed illegal," said Chase Brooks, owner of the Fuquay-Varina sweepstakes cafe, noting recent court rulings protect his business.

Players often lose, but sometimes they win money in the online or phone games.

"The tickets are predetermined, just like the lottery," Brooks said.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said legal fights over such games keep his office in limbo.

"Law enforcement is not likely to spend resources investigating it if they know prosecutors can't go forward with the case," Willoughby said.

He said he also believes the public perception of gambling has eased in North Carolina, with online poker and sports betting, the state lottery and the Cherokee casino already available in the state.

"I think enforcement has changed," he said.

Since the lottery started in early 2006, gambling-related arrests across North Carolina have dropped off sharply.

"I think, when the state went into the gambling business, it was sending a message," said Bill Brooks, president of the conservative North Carolina Family Policy Council.

Brooks fought the lottery and supported the video poker ban, but now he's frustrated to see sweepstakes cafes thriving.

"I do think they are skirting the law. I think North Carolina clearly intends to regulate gambling," he said.

State lawmakers are expected to consider what to do with sweepstakes and other games when they reconvene in May.

"If the state has some concerns about it, tax it (and) regulate it. That's the key to everything," Brooks said.

"We got the lottery. We've got Cherokee, which we go to once a quarter. Then let's have full-blown gambling," Carroll said.


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  • bulbous Jan 28, 2010

    legalize and tax it. sounds like a good idea for a lot of things.

  • mbalady Jan 28, 2010

    what? no comment about the president? LOL

  • ncwebguy Jan 28, 2010

    With the lottery, every penny is accounted for. For the "cafes", not so much. Are the Cherokee fighting the cafes as much as they fought recognition of the Lumbee tribe?

    The people behind powerball have video lottery terminals, but for whatever reason are not allowed in NC yet. I would rather play something I know the odds of vs. the "who knows" of the "internet access/phone card" games.

    NC has a lot of horse farms, so betting on the (recently cancelled) steeplechase near Pinehurst could boost the state's economy.

  • BubbaDuke Jan 28, 2010

    I've visited two cafe's and won about $100. It's like other forms of entertainment - movies, sporting events, etc. If someone wants to spend their money and the government is receiving taxes from the internet cafe's, where is the problem? The only problem I have with the internet cafe's is they don't ban smoking like restaurants have to. Everyone I know who goes to these places claim they leave with hair and clothes smelling of smoke. If anything should be made illegal, it should be smoking in all public places - it stinks, it's offensive, and it's more deadly than gambling.

  • ezLikeSundayMorning Jan 28, 2010

    I personally don't have a problem with gambling. I would prefer to see real table games. I'd much rather spend $50 playing poker for an evening than go to a concert for the same money and the same amount of time. And there really is skill involved.

    I worry about people who buy a stack of scratch of tickets. Maybe it's fun for them scrathing them off. I prefer interacting with live people around a table.

    These internet sweepstakes places are gambling. I don't care if they exist, but if we would just legalizing gambling we could have options that are actually fun.

  • wingnut88 Jan 27, 2010

    Ah yes the ponies. I sure do miss the track, from NJ, Freehold, Monmouth, The Meadowlands. OTB in NYC...

  • go4gin Jan 27, 2010

    FINALLY! Bring on the OTB's. When I go to the one in Alberta Va 1 out of 4 cars are from NC. When I go to Colonial Downs for the Virginia Derby 1 out of 2 cars are from NC. There has always been Bingo here, so the church people can't say too much. There have always been strip clubs... if THAT doesn't bother church goers and is totally accepted here, how can they honestly justify denying me MY pleasure in horse racing?