LAURINBURG — Although a few Internet sweepstakes parlors are reopening in Scotland County, local officials aren’t counting on an industry resurgence anytime soon.
In December, the city issued business licenses to two such businesses, which provide patrons with a chance to win big via online sweepstakes. One of them, Carolina Cyber Center, recently reopened after charges of running an illegal sweepstakes operation filed against it last year were dismissed in District Court.
There are two Carolina Cyber Center locations: one on South Main Street and one outside of the city on Leisure Road. The city also granted a business license last month to the Lucky Barn on South Main Street.
Sweepstakes parlors pay handsomely for licensure to operate within the city limits: $2,000 per establishment and $400 for each computer offering access to online sweepstakes. In 2011-2012, the city received about $150,000 in revenue from sweepstakes cafes, according to city finance director Cindy Carpenter.
The Scotland County Sheriff’s Office and Laurinburg Police Department enforced a blanket ban on sweepstakes parlors early last year, following a ruling by the state Supreme Court declaring constitutional the state’s 2010 ban on video gambling.
Carolina Cyber Center and the Lucky Barn were among the facilities in operation at that time. Charges against Carolina Cyber Center were dismissed last month on the grounds that its computers operate software by the name of Blue Diamond that does not provide customers with the “entertaining display” prohibited in the state ban on video gambling.
In the past, the city has budgeted for about $20,000 in revenue annually from fees associated with video gambling parlors, budgeting for $100,000 toward the general fund in 2012-2013. The city did not include revenue from sweepstakes in the 2013-2014 budget.
“It’s one of those things you never know if you’re going to get,” Carpenter said.
In the county, there is no permit process for online sweepstakes cafes outside of the normal business licensure — a nominal fee to cover costs of producing the license itself. But according to County Manager Kevin Patterson, for sweepstakes parlors to open with software not already deemed acceptable in court remains a calculated risk.
“I think that would probably be a risky venture for anyone,” Patterson said. “The law is still constitutional — as soon as they open up, they would be shut down until they go to court and risk what ever judgement the District Court judge rules on.”
For authorities, gambling facilities operating within the confines of state law obfuscate the issue of enforcing state law, as the fine line of legality is determined by the machines inside, not the sign on the door.
“Other business folks in Scotland County are sort of duplicating the system and software that [Carolina Cyber Center] has and they’re opening up, so they’re in compliance as far as that goes,” Scotland County Sheriff Shep Jones said. “We’ll periodically go through and make sure they’re in compliance, but if they’re in accordance with the law there’s not a whole lot we can do.”