NC video sweepstakes ban begins Thursday

Posted January 2, 2013 6:35 p.m. EST
Updated January 3, 2013 6:02 a.m. EST

— A state Supreme Court ruling goes into effect Thursday that clears the way for law officers to enforce a ban on video sweepstakes. Despite a 2010 law banning the games, Internet cafes that pay cash prizes turned into a multi-million dollar industry.

State Attorney General Roy Cooper says he doesn't anticipate widespread Internet café raids across the state on Thursday. Enforcement will likely vary across the state depending on the discretion of local officers and district attorneys.

WRAL News found many businesses are already shutting down, but at least one high profile location plans to test the limits of the law.

Management at the Royal Palace Theatre in Roanoke Rapids has moved out games that don't comply with the law, but new games will take their place.

WRAL News obtained a letter from Roanoke Rapids City Attorney Gilbert Chichester describing what is called pre-reveal software that shows a prize before a customer even plays. His opinion is that it doesn't violate the law.

Royal Palace management say they will follow the law with new software. The sweepstakes industry filed for a stay with the U.S. Supreme Court last week. The court has not responded yet, so enforcement is cleared to start Thursday.

The attorney general wouldn’t speculate on what's legal and what's not, although he said he believes the state Supreme Court ruling that upholds the sweepstakes ban will be much harder to side step.

“We haven't been consulted on that particular issue. (It) sounds like we may be,” he said.

The Roanoke Rapids situation is unique since the city owns the long troubled theatre. Mayor Emery Doughtie says the new management is "like a Godsend" and that the machines they installed have become "very important" to recent success.

"The last thing we want to do is close down,” he said.

That’s exactly what was happening at a sweepstakes café on South Wilmington Street in Raleigh. The video poker machines were dark and the computer terminals gone.

Owner Rudolph Morton said he was “devastated” and more than frustrated to see his employees and revenue axed by the recent court ruling, but he's not willing to risk breaking the law.

“We decided to shut the doors and just see what happens,” he said.

Morton says he'll let others test the sweepstakes ban.

“If they can find a way that we can operate legally, then that's what we're going to do. But, we're going to operate under the law,” he said.

A spokesman for Gov.-elect Pat McCrory said Wednesday that McCrory "respects the Supreme Court's decision."

"Law enforcement can now begin to enforce the law with clarity. (McCrory) looks forward to reviewing this issue in greater detail after being sworn in as governor this Saturday," the statement continued.