Sheriff Shep Jones and interim Laurinburg Police Chief Kimothy Monroe met with officials at the county District Attorney’s office on Monday to clarify how to proceed following last month’s ruling by the the state Supreme Court to uphold 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.
The high court’s decision meant that the establishments could no longer use that loophole after 11:30 a.m on Jan. 3.
But even up to Monday afternoon, many establishments in Scotland County continued to do brisk business.
Jones said that will change.
“We were told to go ahead and start enforcing the law,” Jones said. “We had held off in an effort to makes sure that enforcement was consistent and everyone was on the same page.”
Jones said that deputies will visit those sweepstakes parlors that are still operational and advise them of the law.
“Officers may go out and speak will the establishments about shutting down,” Jones said. “We want to give people the opportunity to close first. After that we will move forward and begin making arrests if need be.”
Monroe said he may issue a statement today on what city police plan to do.
County Manager Kevin Patterson that he expects a number of the sweepstakes halls to try to adjust their branding and game play rules.
“The industry is still trying to look at any type of vagueness in the language,” said Patterson, adding that some businesses have already started changing the wording on their signage in an endeavor to skirt the law.
Patterson believes the cafes will not be able to avoid compliance indefinitely.
“Right now we’re not aware that any local law enforcement has been out confiscating equipment, but eventually these businesses will be required to come into full compliance which means that a vast majority will need to cease operation.”
Asked if he thought there would be any exceptions, Patterson said that is where the law still remains unclear.
“The industry, as I said, will still try to find those opportunities and adjust their machines and equipment. That is where local governments and law enforcement are waiting for the final opinion from the state.”
Laurinburg Finance Director Cindy Carpenter said that the NC Institute of Government will be conducting a webinar this month to educate government workers about the ruling from a legal standpoint.
“We’ve known all along that it was possible that they would be ruled illegal … and now we consider them illegal and won’t collect (any more licensing fees).”
That foresight is evident in how the city budgeted for the licensing fees.
Home to 25 sweepstakes cafes before the ruling, the city collected $177,000 in licensing fees from the cafes during the current financial year. Only $100,000 was budgeted for the fees.
The Scotland County Board of Commissioners had hoped to get in on the licensing revenue stream themselves and had pursued the issue with their state representatives and through formal legislative requests to the state legislature.
According to Patterson, that effort was stopped dead in its tracks following the court’s ruling.
“As long as (the sweepstakes cafes) existed we wanted to find ways of generating revenue from them, but if this is the final resolution and if a law can be made that’s truly enforceable that would terminate these businesses, then the counties probably won’t be terribly upset,” Patterson said.
Laurinburg Mayor Tommy Parker believes that the harm being done by the cafes may outweigh the good.
“Some people might call what they spend there an ‘entertainment allowance,’ but if you are addicted to gambling, then you are probably going to spend a disproportionate among of your time and money there, and when that happens it is not good for the community and the families involved,” Parker said.
“Now that the loophole is closed and until another one is found, I think we ought to enforce the law and that they should all close.”