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Lawmaker to pull sweepstakes games from Sanford store

Posted February 14, 2011 5:40 p.m. EST
Updated February 15, 2011 4:21 p.m. EST

— A Lee County lawmaker said Monday that he plans to remove all Internet sweepstakes games from his business to avoid any conflict of interest on the controversial games, which he argues are legal.

Republican Rep. Mike Stone has had video poker and sweepstakes games in and out of his Sanford area stores, such as O'Connell's Supermarket, since 2000.

Although state legislators have tried for years to ban the machines, the industry repeatedly finds ways to survive.

"Every time (courts) come out with a ruling, in 24 to 48 hours, (suppliers) have already adjusted the games and have them back in stores," Stone said. "I'm OK (with it) as long as they're following the law."

In November, for example, a judge in Guilford County ruled part of a ban on sweepstakes games that lawmakers approved in July was too broad to be enforced. Game operators quickly adjusted games so that they don't resemble slot machines to fit under the exception the judge allowed to the ban.

Stone said he supports state regulation and taxation of the games as long as small businesses like his run the show. He opposes turning control over to the North Carolina Education Lottery.

"People may see (my ownership of the machines) as a conflict of interest. I think it just gives me more knowledge of what's going on in the real world," he said.

Stone caught heat for trying to educate fellow lawmakers on the real world last week.

The freshman representative led a closed-door Republican House caucus meeting on gaming. He said Monday that he didn't pick the lobbyists who spoke both for and against video gaming.

Although he didn't control the debate, he said he now regrets any appearance of secrecy and influence.

"I think we've also made mistakes we need to learn by," he said.

After a critical article in The News & Observer newspaper in Raleigh about the closed-door meeting and Stone's ownership of sweepstakes machines, he said he decided to pull the money-making machines out of his Sanford store.

"We want to make sure and clear that, if we go ahead and vote, we can vote and not have to abstain because we're currently making money on the industry," he said.

If lawmakers again vote to outlaw video gaming, he said he would accept the majority opinion. He said he wants a final decision that will create a fair competitive market for all private retailers.