Internet-cafes moratorium OK’d

Published 7:11 pm Thursday, May 27, 2010

Contributing Editor

Washington has imposed a 90-day moratorium on new sites for electronic gaming operations (Internet sweepstakes cafes) in the city and its extraterritorial jurisdiction.
The City Council, during its meeting Monday, unanimously approved the moratorium after receiving a recommendation that it do so from the Planning Board. The board said the moratorium would allow it and the city’s planning staff an opportunity to review Internet sweepstakes operations and their compatibility with the city’s land-use plan and other land uses.
The council’s imposition of the moratorium, which took effect immediately upon council’s approval, came after a public hearing on the issue.
Internet sweepstakes cafes that have been properly permitted and licensed by the city may continue to operate.
Robert Salinger, owner of Pamlico Internet Access, told the council he was not speaking for or against the moratorium. Instead, he told the council he would be “happy to be a resource for you” as the city addresses how it will deal with Internet sweepstakes cafes.
Salinger said he considers his business a legal enterprise, telling the council he’s willing to share his financial records with the city.
“I sleep good at night,” he said.
Salinger said he’s a “displaced businessman looking for a way to make a dollar.”
Mayor Archie Jennings welcomed Salinger’s offer to serve as a resource for the city, saying there is “lots of misinformation” being disseminated about Internet sweepstakes cafes.
City officials noted the General Assembly could address the issue during its current short session.
During another council meeting earlier this month, Councilman Doug Mercer and other city officials questioned the legality of Internet sweepstakes cafes. John Rodman, director of the city’s Planning and Development Department, said then the two Internet sweepstakes cafes in Washington opened under the “computer services” designation on the list of permitted uses in their zoning classifications.
At that May 10 meeting, Mercer said because Internet sweepstakes cafes are not specifically listed as permitted uses in the city’s zoning ordinances, they are prohibited. The city’s zoning ordinances say that if a use is not listed as a permitted use, then that use is prohibited, Mercer added.
Mercer also said he believes the two entities misled the city when they filed the needed paperwork to obtain business licenses to operate in the city. Apparently, that paperwork did include a mention of “Internet sweepstakes” activities, according to city officials.
Mercer said that in his opinion “these two operations are illegal according to our zoning ordinances.”
Councilman Gil Davis, at the May 10 meeting, said he believes such operations will have to be allowed in at least one zoning classification in the city. He also recommended charging each Internet sweepstake cafe $250 for each machine used for Internet gambling when it renews its business license in July. The $250 charged for each machine could discourage them from continuing in business, Davis indicated.
Also during the May 10 meeting, Mayor Pro Tempore Bobby Roberson said it may be difficult for the city to shut down the Internet sweepstakes cafes with facing some form of liability. After all, Roberson noted, the city gave the OK for the two businesses to open. As for issuing them a business license but charging them $250 for each machine, issuing the business licenses could be interpreted as the city recognizing them as legitimate businesses, Roberson added.