A decision by the N.C. Supreme Court is expected to close sweepstakes cafes in Scotland County and cut off a lucrative revenue stream to local governments.
The Dec. 14 ruling upheld a 2010 law banning video sweepstakes machines in the state. A loophole in the 2007 law prohibiting video poker machines resulted in the proliferation of sweepstakes parlors and Internet cafes throughout North Carolina.
Though by law sweepstakes cafes will be forced to close at 11:30 a.m. today, some establishments hope to change their machines in order to comply with the law and remain operational.
“We’re waiting to hear,” said Chris Futrell, owner of The Lucky Barn on Main Street in Laurinburg. “They’re tweaking some software to see if it’s going to be North Carolina compliant and if it is, and the powers that be agree, then we’ll stay open.”
Sweepstakes hall customers purchase Internet time, with the option of playing games and the potential of winning cash prizes. Amusement machine and software companies sought to overturn the ban on the grounds that what is actually sold is Internet time and prizewinners are predetermined.
The city of Laurinburg stands to lose nearly $200,000 annually with the closure of sweepstakes halls, according to city finance director Cindy Carpenter.
“It has been money that we’ve been receiving for the last couple of years, so the general fund has been budgeting for that money,” she said. “We have been aware that at any time that could change.”
Laurinburg is home to 25 active sweepstakes cafes, each charged $2,000 for a business license. Parlors are also assessed a fee of $400 for each individual machine, totalling about $177,000 annually for the city. For 2012-2013, the city budgeted $100,000 in revenue from sweepstakes halls.
“It’s a lot of money at stake for the state, the software companies, the sweepstakes parlors, the employees, and everybody else,” said Futrell, whose establishment employs a dozen people.
Some patrons of area sweepstakes will simply migrate to South Carolina to play, like Lumberton resident Yolonda Bullard, an occasional visitor to the Lucky Barn.
“This is my getaway,” Bullard said. “I can get away from my old man, it helps get me away from violence sometimes. I play every day, not necessarily here. It’s something that I enjoy doing.”
One Laurinbug resident, who declined to give her name, brings her friend and former co-worker to the Carolina Cyber Center on McColl Road weekly.
“She’s in a wheelchair, so I take her out to lunch on Wednesday and then bring her here,” she said. “She likes to play Keno, so I bring her down here to play Keno. She loves it, it’s an outlet for her. She knows all these people, the woman who owns it and everyone, she knows them all by name. I hate it for her.”
Futrell said that he and his staff also have a relatively close-knit relationship with their clients.
“We know every customer by heart, we can tell you who their family is, how they’re doing. It’s a form of entertainment that they love to do,” he said. “The same people come every day, the same husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend come play every day and spend a few dollars, kill a few hours, and have a great time.”