Local video sweepstakes centers will be forced to close following the N.C. Supreme Court’s decision on Friday to uphold a ban on such establishments.
The state’s highest court reversed an appellate court’s ruling that a legislative ban on Internet sweepstakes gaming restricted free speech.
The ban will begin being enforced on Jan. 3, according to various media reports.
The issue has been a hot topic both locally and across the state, with many government officials struggling with how best to address sweepstakes operations.
The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners approved new standards for the centers in August that called for separation requirements from residential zoning districts, churches and schools, certain access and visibility requirements, limits on hours of operation and parking specifications.
The regulations came in the form of an amendment to the county’s Unified Development Ordinance.
Many residents had shown up at meetings in the months leading up to the decision to speak against the sweepstakes centers cropping up around the area.
Lincolnton officials, meanwhile, decided to hold off on a similar move.
The City Council delayed taking any action regarding video sweepstakes centers in November, opting instead to let the state’s Supreme Court, which began hearing arguments for the case in mid-October, pass its judgment on the businesses first.
Mayor John Gilleland told the Times-News on Monday that the ruling didn’t really surprise him. However, he noted that he feels for those who will be forced to shut down their businesses.
“Certainly, as a business owner, I hate to see anybody have to stop doing business,” he said. ” … but the law is what the law is.”
Caroline Brown, owner of Sugar Daddy’s Internet Sweepstakes in Lincolnton, told the Times-News on Tuesday that she employs eight people who will lose their jobs, not counting the employees of the seven or so other centers in operation in city limits.
The ruling, she added, “flabbergasted” her. The reaction among those who frequent her gaming center is one of anger, she said.
“We need all the businesses and jobs we can get in North Carolina,” she noted.
She said she believed “legislative morality” was at play.
“Church and state need to be separate,” Brown added.
However, she said attorneys for the software industry behind sweepstakes are still combing through the fine print of the legislation. As such, some things are yet to be determined.
There’s the possibility that the software could be adapted or modified to comply with the law.
For now, Brown said the state can expect to see former employees of the centers hitting the unemployment lines soon.
Lincoln County Zoning Administrator Randy Hawkins told the Times-News Monday that there were no pending permit requests for sweepstakes establishments, to add to the at least four that were already operating in the county (not including those in Lincolnton city limits).
“My understanding is that it will be up to law enforcement to enforce the ban,” he added.
Board of Commission Chairman Alex Patton, who has been vocal about his opposition to Internet sweepstakes, issued the following statement to the Times-News regarding the ruling:
“The N.C. Supreme Court validated what we already knew; sweepstakes such as these in Lincoln County are gambling,” he said. “It was an attempt to circumvent the law all along. These businesses would call themselves ‘business centers’ to try and legitimize their gambling operation.”
“While I feel for the employees that will now be without a job, the owners knew they were taking a risk, as the case was pending before the court when some of these opened. While I disagree with the lottery, as well, at least it is well-regulated. There were no regulations regarding the payouts or software integrity. Lincoln County is much better off without these so-called sweepstakes parlors.”