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Officers crack down on sweepstakes centers

JENNA-LEY HARRISON
Staff Writer

Police and deputies have been teaming up to shut down Internet sweepstakes gaming centers  accused of trying to illegally reopen more than a month after the North Carolina Supreme Court unanimously upheld the state’s 2010 ban, outlawing the particular type of gambling.

Officers with the Lincolnton Police Department conducted an undercover operation Jan. 20 at B & B Sweepstakes on North Aspen Street and Lincoln Business Center on East Main Street, according to an agency press release.

Internet sweepstakes centers across the state had until Jan. 3 to officially shutdown after the N.C. Supreme Court ruled Dec. 14 to reverse an earlier appellate court’s decision that said banning the certain kind of sweepstakes would restrain free speech.

Lincoln County Sheriff David Carpenter and his deputies accompanied police in executing search warrants this month at the local businesses.

“It is clearly evident that these folks are trying to circumvent the ruling of the Supreme Court due to the fact they are losing thousands upon thousands of dollars a week, and we will not stand for it,” Carpenter told the Times-News on Monday. “This is a clear statement to anyone that both agencies will enforce this ruling until we are told otherwise by a high court. I don’t care what type of new software they try. It is plain and simple. Gambling is gambling the last time I checked.”

Both businesses reopened mid-January, police said, after using a certain kind of software to update their “slot-type” sweepstakes games, which operate similarly to slot machines. The release said the software is meant to disguise the fact that the games are still gambling.

However, during the undercover operations, each of the businesses paid winnings to the informants, and one of the employees told officers on more than one occasion during a game demonstration that it involved “betting,” the release said.

Officers said they seized roughly $3,000 in cash from each of the two city businesses along with computer terminals and servers used to play the games.

While charges are pending against each of the businesses’ owners, no employees will be charged in the incidents, police said.

Sheriff Carpenter also issued agency letters to each sweepstakes business owner/operator stating the seriousness of obeying state law.

“I have instructed my deputies to investigate violations and enforce the law,” he said in the letter. “I have been assured by District Attorney Rick Shaffer that if we make arrests that he will prosecute.”

He went on to say that the Sheriff’s Office will not extend a “grace period” or “immunity” to any sweepstakes business operating outside the law.

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