“Tell them to leave us alone,” say sweepstakes players


By Catherine Hunter –

On January 3, sheriff’s deputies throughout North Carolina will enforce a ban on all video sweepstakes machines. Sweepstakes business owners say it’s not fair because the games are no different than the lottery and the ban will affect thousands of jobs.

Lt. Randy Sorells of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department said there will be no warnings regarding removal of the machines.

“This is not a new law,” Sorells said “We’re simply renewing enforcement of an existing law and expect everyone to be in compliance.”

The state outlawed video poker gambling machines in 2007. Video sweepstakes machines became popular following a 2010 ruling by the state Court of Appeals, saying the law banning the machines was written too broadly. Then on Friday, December 14, 2012, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of the ban, saying the sweepstakes halls are gambling operations.

“Gambling’s gambling,” said one video sweepstakes player, who did not want his name used. “There’s no difference in this and the lottery. If they get rid of this they should get rid of the lottery.”

“They’re discriminating against people who aren’t Indian,” said Junior Franks who owns Lucky’s Sweepstakes in Candler. Franks pointed out that they were shutting down video sweepstakes machines in Maggie Valley while people could drive 15 minutes over the mountain to Harrah’s Casino in Cherokee.

Representative Susan Fisher said she supported the ban of the video machines, but was concerned about the job loss. She also said, though she was one of the last to “get on board” with the lottery, she thinks it is better than the video sweepstakes or video poker machines.

“I still believe, overall, gambling is not the best way to do business. They are not really the most savory of businesses,” Fisher said. “They prey on people with less expendable income.”

Fisher added that she rationalized the lottery because it’s for education. She said the government could at least see the lottery funds would go to a good cause, “… rather than the funds just going to the business owner.” Fisher said she also supported the lottery because North Carolina was surrounded by lottery states and people were crossing the boarders to purchase tickets.

Newly elected representative Nathan Ramsey said he doesn’t support the lottery or the operation of video sweepstakes machines, but recognizes that there is gambling on the Cherokee reservation, on the internet, in sports and other areas throughout the country. Ramsey added that since he was not in office when the House voted on these gambling issues, he is not aware of all the details involved.

“The big motivation for the ban on video poker is there was a lot of corruption surrounding it and it was very destructive to families,” he said.

Representative Tim Moffitt did not return phone calls.

While politicians debate the pros and cons of video poker and sweepstakes machines, players sit in the dark, smoke filled halls watching the flashing symbols on the large black screens. One player said the sweepstakes halls are a good place for retired or handicapped people to spend their time.

“People enjoy this. They can win here,” said a player who added that most of those at Harrah’s Casino during the week were retirees. “There’s not much for retired people to do around here.”

Video sweepstakes business owner Andy Hyde, said he pays thousands in taxes to operate his three stores in Woodfin. “They’re missing out on a lot of money,” said Hyde who will have to let nine people go when he closes his stores.

Sorells said as deputies begin making their rounds on January 3 they will confiscate any machines still in operation as well as any monies involved.

“Sweepstakes parlors have popped up everywhere since the law came into question,” said Sorells who explained those not complying with the law would be subject to criminal charges. “It’s a class 2 criminal offense. They could be subject to arrest.”

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