WRAL Investigates

Sweepstakes debate continues to fracture

Posted June 16, 2010

— As the computers glow and simulated slots keep multiplying across North Carolina, the debate over how to handle the so-called sweepstakes cafés continues to fracture.

The gaming industry invites taxation and regulation, and customers crave the freedom to keep playing, but sheriffs and some lawmakers want to ban them like they did video poker.

“Who am I to tell you how to spend your money? That's your choice,” said sweepstakes customer Linwood Dale.

The games, which are sprouting up in strip shopping centers across the state, sell players blocks of time to play games of chance on computers or cell phones. The odds are long, but players who win can get a cash payout.

Although opponents have compared the computer terminals to video poker, recent court rulings have determined the businesses are legal.

“They're proliferating like poisonous mushrooms. It's like wildfire,” said Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake.

Stein said he expects his colleagues will vote to outlaw the machines, but House Democrats can't find consensus right now, so nothing may happen.

Sweepstakes debate continues Sweepstakes debate continues

“We have a variety of opinions and we'll just see if we address it. We're not sure yet how we're going to proceed with that,” said Majority Leader Rep. Hugh Holliman.

“We need to see what the court says about it. What's their interpretation? And that will give us better direction in which to go on,” said Rep. Larry Womble, D-Forsyth.

Efforts to ban video sweepstakes games "will cost nearly 10,000 jobs and hurt the state's economy," according to the Entertainment Group of North Carolina. The group "supports state oversight, state enforcement and state collection of tax revenues."

The confusion leaves local communities scrambling. Some are rezoning and taxing to try and control sweepstakes growth. In many cases, they're now spreading to convenience stores.

Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston, made waves by asking the lottery to consider taking over the games. He argues doing nothing can't be an option.

“We've got to do something. Just to ignore it is not leadership and to ignore it … it's not going to go away,” he said.

“It is incumbent upon us at the General Assembly, I think, to end the confusion, to end the confusion that the courts have created,” Stein said.

Ban or tax, that confusion means the games go on for now.


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  • colliedave Jun 17, 2010

    The fact our pols waste time discussing this issue disgusts me. Allow the places to operate and place a reasonable (10%) on all wininings. Allow the operators of the place to determine what kind of food/beverages will be sold and collect the appropriate tax on these items. This is as silly as not allowing lottery sales in ABC stores.

  • robertwharris Jun 17, 2010

    As usual, Josh Stein has his head where he should be sitting. The courts did not create this mess. The legislature creates the law, the courts interpret. If the legislature insists on putting unconstitutional laws on the public, they will continue to be slapped down by courageous judges like Judge Manning (hopefully). As to the long odds on video play, the average pay table on a video poker machine is 90%. Compare that to the state pick 3 where you are GUARANTEED to lose $2.00 for every dollar you put in. The politicians think that video games are competing with their precious lottery. Not so. Video players are to smart to play such ridiculous odds.

  • pwilliamson53 Jun 16, 2010

    This is no different than playing bingo or the lottery. It's a game of chance. What our government is so upset about is, they don't have their greedy hands in it like the lottery. The lottery was to raise money for the North Carolina Education, but thanks to our governor she as an elected official will use it as she see fits (her words not mine). Our schools, teachers and jobs are still being lost and the budget is still short. Why? So back to the sweepsteaks, our elected officials wants the profits to fill their pockets with higher salaries and more benefits for them. Why not let the people of North Carolina play and take the chance of winning? Either way, the government will get their share and more of it. The jobs created by this has put people back to work and off the system. Personally, I see no wrong in taking a chance on playing. It's for entertainment as much as it trying to win.

  • Red Jun 16, 2010

    So gambling is ok so long as the state is doing it?

  • Pippy999 Jun 16, 2010

    We might as well tax them and make some money off them. The government should know by now that making it illegal doesn't stop it. If people want to gamble, they'll just do it behind the scenes.

  • Boogalooboy Jun 16, 2010

    We have heard this song before, let's take the tax money and put in the school budget, we can hire the best teachers , with the best school and the best equipment. We will have the best schools in the US in spite of the incompentent leadership. After the bill is passes that we all thought would be so great the lawmaker comes forward, after being pressured and the cat was out of the bag, "Uh we didn't add that tax money to the existing education budget, we blew that budget on other useless expenditures, but we replaced it with the tax money from the gambling machines"""

    Sound familiar ??

  • trc09 Jun 16, 2010

    topkat, I agree.

  • topkat1258two Jun 16, 2010

    Not that I play either, but what is the difference between these games and Bingo? Don't you pay to play and isn't the "prize" money if you win?

    Seems to me to be just another game of chance and I don't think I've ever heard of anyone try to outlaw Bingo "parlors".