Local Politics

Luck runs out for employees of sweepstakes cafes

Posted November 26, 2010 7:33 p.m. EST
Updated November 27, 2010 9:12 a.m. EST

— When a state ban on Internet sweepstakes games kicks in next week, luck will run out for the employees of the cafes that host the machines. 

Chris Marion, who runs Crazy Hank's Internet Cafe in Fayetteville, estimated that 10,000 people across the state could lose their jobs.

Marion and his wife started the business, at 6577 Fisher Road, after sales slowed for the former real estate agent. They employ seven people.

"Most of the people who work for us were already laid off from another industry," he said. "They came to us, with a new business opening up. We gave them a job."

Now it looks like the law will force him to close up shop.

"I'll be just one of the millions of Americans on unemployment," he said.

Effective Dec. 1, operation of an Internet sweepstakes game is a misdemeanor. Repeat offenders could be charged with a felony that carries a two-year prison sentence.

The state outlawed video poker in 2006. The sweepstakes machines operated under a loophole that allowed players to pay for time on games that resemble poker and slots. The outcome is based purely on luck. No actions by the player can change the predetermined result.

Bill Nichols sees the games as a great way to kill the day.

"I come in (and) play $15 or $20," he said. "If I win, great. If I lose that $15 or $20, I'm not taking away from my family."

Proponents of the law to ban the machines say they waste both time and money.

"I really don't see them as a legitimate use of time or money," said Phil Forbes. "It just seems to deprive people of hard-earned money, despite the jobs they create."

Karen Lambert, an employee of Lucky Charm Cafe, at 2653 Hope Mills Road, doesn't see the harm to her customers. 

“They come in here to enjoy themselves, to relax, to get away from the atmosphere outside,” she said. 

Lambert said she doesn't have a new job lined up and is bracing to be unemployed “right before the holidays. That’s going to be hard,” she said.

Marion said he'll be lucky if his Internet cafe earns back the initial investment he and his wife made.

When the ban takes effect, he will look for a new small business opportunity. “I guess step back and punt. Come up with a new idea, a new business, try to find a new industry,” Marion said.