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Sweepstakes questions show up in municipal meetings

As the Washington Police Department continues to investigate a fatal shooting during an attempted robbery at a local sweepstakes business, municipal boards throughout the county have faced questions regarding sweepstakes during the past month.

LOCAL ACTIONS

At the county level, there is no ordinance regulating sweepstakes businesses, according to County Manager Brian Alligood. In the City of Washington, sweepstakes businesses currently fall into the category of businesses that require a special-use permit under the city’s zoning ordinance. The owners of Players Vape are scheduled to challenge that ordinance at a meeting next week, according to employees of the Washington Planning and Inspections Department.

A similar ordinance proposed during the February meeting of the Chocowinity Planning Board was tabled pending the results of court cases focused on the legal status of such operations.

On Monday, the Belhaven Board of Aldermen denied a request from a would-be sweepstakes operator to add “Internet Cafes” (Also known as sweepstakes or skills based gaming) to the permitted or conditional uses for businesses in the town’s Highway Business Zoning District.

CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES

In the early morning hours on Monday, a would-be robber from Rocky Mount named Grant Waters was shot and killed by an employee at a Players Vape, a Washington sweepstakes parlor. On Wednesday, the suspect’s accomplice, Mindy Renee Sullivan, was arrested in Washington and charged for Grant’s alleged actions. In newspaper headlines and TV broadcasts throughout the state, robberies like the one that occurred on Monday are showing up frequently at sweepstakes parlors.

In Lumberton, WRAL reported on a fatal sweepstakes parlor robbery in January — a local man was shot and killed as he attempted to rob the store. The Winston Salem-Journal reported on another armed robbery at a sweepstakes parlor in Lexington a week later. The Greenville Daily Reflector reported in February that a clerk was shot during an armed robbery at a Greenville sweepstakes business. On March 17, WRAL reported on another armed robbery at a sweepstakes parlor in Raleigh.

LEGAL STATUS

Under North Carolina state law, it is illegal to operate electronic gaming machines for the purpose of a sweepstakes, which is defined as “any game, advertising scheme or plan, or other promotion, which, with or without payment of any consideration, a person may enter to win or become eligible to receive any prize, the determination of which is based upon chance.”

In Alamance County Superior Court, the state’s sweepstakes statute is being put to the test. A series of articles in The Times-News detail the Burlington Police Department’s enforcement actions in that town, which resulted in the closing of multiple sweepstakes operations and the seizure of 90 machines.

According to an article from The Times-News, two business owners filed suit against the City of Burlington and its police chief as a result of the enforcement. One of those businesses, Mighty Enterprises, said in its suit that the machines on site are games of skill, rather than games of chance.

According the Alamance County Clerk of Court, that lawsuit is still pending in court.