Sweepstakes crackdown expands to Wake
Posted March 29, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said Friday that he has told area law enforcement agencies to begin enforcing a state ban on video sweepstakes games next week.
The move comes a week after Cumberland County authorities launched a crackdown on sweepstakes parlors. Deputies there seized more than 200 machines, closed 10 businesses and arrested a handful of operators and customers in the first three days of the operation.
The North Carolina Supreme Court in December upheld a 2010 state law banning sweepstakes games, but operators have tried to implement new software that they say makes their games legal.
The state law prohibits the "entertaining display" of prizes on the games, so some games now feature a "pre-reveal" system. After customers pay, their winnings or losses appear on the screen before they choose to spin.
Still, Willoughby said, a preliminary investigation by the Wake County Sheriff's Office found some sweepstakes parlors are clearly breaking the law. He said he has held off pursuing criminal cases against the operators to give them time to shut down on their own.
"Many of these people are small businesses owners. Some of these people operated these machines in another business,” he said. "It gave folks a chance to voluntarily refrain from engaging in the behavior if they didn’t want to test to the law.”
Most of the sweepstakes parlors in Cumberland County have closed down on their own before deputies can raid them, but the businesses continue to operate in some neighboring counties.
Authorities in Harnett and Sampson counties said they won't target sweepstakes parlors until local prosecutors weigh in like Willoughby and Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West.
Jeremiah Priest, who runs C&C Internet Sweepstakes in Dunn, said he believes his operation is legal because the machines have pre-reveal software. Still, he said, the Harnett County Sheriff's Office told him he would get a 10-day warning before any raid.
"Within that 10 days, we'll make sure that we are either in operating under the rules they want us to or we'll be closed down," Priest said. "We're very concerned, but we just try to stay open day by day."
Even if they're not raids, many sweepstakes businesses statewide could be compelled to shut down soon, with two of the major software suppliers saying this week that they are pulling out of North Carolina.
International Internet Technologies and VS2 Worldwide Communications say the varying tactics used by local authorities across the state make it difficult to remain in business.
Priest said the looming end of the sweepstakes business is disheartening for both him and his customers.
"When I talk to my customers, a lot of them see it as a stress reliever – a way to get away from work, home, stress," he said. "(Closing) means I’d be at the unemployment lines just like everybody else looking for another job."