‘Sweepstakes’ ban draws mixed reactions

Published 3:36 am Friday, July 9, 2010

Staff Writer

Some local officials are applauding the N.C. General Assembly’s decision to ban electronic sweepstakes games purveyed by Internet cafés and business centers.
Others aren’t so sure a majority of the state’s lawmakers made the right decision.
“That’s a tricky thing. … There’s two sides to it,” said Hood Richardson, a Republican Beaufort County commissioner and a candidate for the seat held by Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare.
“If people are using (sweepstakes parlors) in the way that it’s been described to me that they’re using (them), I don’t see a problem with it,” Richardson continued. “Some of the people who have criticized this have said there’s gambling going on and the state’s trying to protect its monopoly.”
In that last remark, Richardson was referring to the North Carolina Education Lottery.
The state is being too harsh on these sweepstakes houses, he asserted.
“A lot of people are addicted to Internet games, too,” Richardson pointed out. “That doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be some regulation. The total ban is very harsh.”
Late last month, a couple of employees of sweepstakes parlors located in Washington said they would lose their jobs if the ban were approved.
The House removed all doubt about the ban’s future Wednesday, following the Senate’s lead and voting 86-27 to ban sweepstakes games.
Statewide media reports indicated the bill would be signed into law by Gov. Beverly Perdue.
The ban takes effect Dec. 1, according to a copy of the bill.
Among the area legislators voting for the measure were Rep. Arthur Williams, D-Beaufort, and Rep. Tim Spear, D-Washington.
Spear and Williams reportedly were in session Thursday and unavailable for comment.
Lawmakers who favor the ban have said the initiative closes a loophole that allows people to operate what, in essence, are casinos, which are illegal in this state outside of Indian reservations.
Opponents of the legislation have argued the state is missing out on a huge source of potential revenue by failing to tax and regulate gaming parlors.
“We are certainly disappointed with the vote in the State House today,” William Thevaos, president of the Entertainment Group of North Carolina, was quoted as saying in a news release Wednesday. “We continue to believe that regulating and taxing video gaming is the best public policy for the State of North Carolina. We will look at all options available to us, including our legal avenues and the advances of technology as we follow the implementation of this law allowing the industry to continue to do business.”
Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal made it clear he supports the ban.
“In Belhaven, we’ve had some complaints about the mere existence of one of those businesses in town,” O’Neal said. “Whenever a business has to black out its windows and act in a clandestine way, it’s probably not a business that we should all be proud of.”
As for the argument that jobs will be lost as a result of the ban, O’Neal said, “There are all kinds of businesses that we could open up that would employ people that we don’t want in town. And these people, hopefully, they’ll find something else in the area to replace that income that they may lose if it has to close. I’m sure there are good people that are working at these establishments, and I’m sure they’ll be able to find something else.”
Also coming out for the ban was the Rev. Robert Cayton, a Democratic Beaufort County commissioner.
“Legalized gambling is bad. Period,” Cayton said. “Every individual has so much disposable income, and what legalized gambling does is take a slice of that pay and make that disposable income less.”
He added, “Whether it’s the state lottery, which is just another term for taxation, or whether it’s computer gambling, gambling will undermine the economic strength of any community or any society.”
Common sense dictates that legalized gambling takes more out of a community than it injects into it, according to Cayton, who said “the cost to society itself” is too much to bear.