State News

State to appeal judge's sweepstakes ruling

Posted December 2, 2010 11:09 a.m. EST
Updated December 2, 2010 7:06 p.m. EST

— The state is appealing a decision last week by Guilford County Superior Court Judge John Craig that opened the door for sweepstakes games on video terminals to keep running.

“Video gambling should be outlawed in our state, and the courts and the legislature need to give local law enforcement clearer direction so they can enforce the law effectively. Attorneys with my office will continue to defend vigorously the ban on video gambling,” Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a statement Thursday.

Cooper’s office released an advisory opinion in response to Craig’s decision and a ruling by a Wake County judge in a similar case earlier this week. The advisory breaks down what the decisions mean for law enforcement officers and prosecutors. In the opinion, games like video poker, video bingo, keno and lotto are illegal. The opinion leaves open other unnamed sweepstakes games with predetermined outcome that don't require skill.

The General Assembly approved a law in July its supporters argue would close illegal gambling parlors that had used loopholes to get around a 2007 ban on traditional video poker machines and another tweak of the law in 2008.

Sweepstakes machine operators contend the games are entertainment, not gambling. Consumers who visit sweepstakes parlors or convenience stores buy Internet or phone time that gives them the opportunity to uncover potential cash and prizes with mouse clicks on a computer screen.

Multiple media outlets reported Thursday that some businesses that have offered the casino-style games are still open although the ban took effect Wednesday. Owners of sweepstakes parlors contend they are changing the games to comply with Craig's ruling, which found a portion of the ban is too broad and infringes on free-speech rights.

B&G Sweepstakes in Raleigh was bustling late Wednesday with players. Owner Dale Batise said he trusted a software company had updated his game to comply with the law and ruling. He has six full-time workers.

"I'm comfortable," he said. "I didn't want to put my workers out of work."

At Summit Internet Services in Greensboro, casino-style games specifically identified in the law were replaced Wednesday with lighter fare. Games featuring duck hunting and penguin bowling replaced slots and Pot-o-Gold.

"The games we have now really aren't as entertaining," said Desiray McLaurin, Summit's manager. "Some of the customers are saying they are boring."

Players like John Flippen in Rockingham County were having a hard time finding the modified games, too. He tried three sweepstakes shops in Reidsville and one in Eden, but they were all closed. He said he doesn't understand why the state is trying to clamp down on them.

"It's just games," he said. "It's something to spend your time doing. You don't win a whole lot, but it's something to do."

Some outlets said they would close only temporarily while terminals were retooled with new games.

A handwritten sign on the door at the Arcade Internet Cafe in Garner said it would reopen at 8 a.m. Friday. A banner overhead referred to Craig's ruling, saying the games were "Approved by Superior Court Judge."