Several Internet sweepstakes businesses remained open on Wednesday in Rocky Mount even though a new state law kicked in at midnight that was designed to close them down.
It’s unclear whether the owners are violating the new law or have discovered another loophole in the state law.
Two Internet sweepstakes cafes — Internet Sweepstakes and Get Lucky Phone Time & More — remained open on Wednesday in the shopping plaza on Stone Rose Drive anchored by West Corp.
In the meantime, the Internet sweepstakes machines were turned off at midnight at Night Life Bar Grill at Hunter Hill Shopping Center and Sweepstakes Headquarters next to Bojangles off North Wesleyan Boulevard.
Employees who worked in the businesses that remained open were tight-lipped about why those cafes remained open.
A man sitting behind a glass window inside the Internet Sweepstakes business who identified himself as the manager said they are looking at legal options.
The man said he did not know whether the business would remain open.
A woman working the counter at Get Lucky Phone Time & More said they did alter their games recently but she couldn’t provide details. She said the manager would have to give out those details, and he wasn’t there and she didn’t have his phone number.
Throughout the state, some video gaming parlors plan to keep operating, with owners altering the games to try and comply with state law.
Tommy Benson, the owner of Night Life Bar and Grill and Benson Amusement Co., turned off a few café machines he operates in the back room of the bar at midnight.
He said he’s heard that some gaming parlors are altering the machines so they are arcade games.
“There is supposed to be a new program that changes games around so they are not casino-type games,” he said.
But he questioned whether people will like the new games.
Benson said the new law is unjust.
“People say gambling is bad, that it takes food from children,” he said. “But I don’t understand the difference between that and the lottery. The lottery is gambling, sanctioned gambling.”
Benson said this is not the time to be closing down businesses and eliminating jobs.
“It will hurt in a bad economy,” he said.
A Night Life customer who did not want to identify himself criticized the new law.
“I don’t use the machines, but I think it’s your government taking one of your choices away,” he said. “I think it’s wrong for government to legislate morality.”
Phillip Williams is among the five employees who work at Sweepstakes Headquarters, which was a 24-hour gaming operation next to Bojangles until closing down at midnight.
Williams said the owner has informed employees that they are changing the machines and will be reopening in about a week.
He was critical of the new law, saying the five people who work there need the jobs to stay out of the unemployment line.
He said many people who use that establishment aren’t hard-core gamblers.
“Nobody is giving away his or her life savings here,” he said.
Two recent trial court rulings have left a ban on electronic and computer-based sweepstakes machines in North Carolina largely intact.
Some operators of sweepstakes parlors, however, say one ruling left the door slightly ajar for them to continue offering a version of the games, and legal appeals may be ahead. It wasn’t immediately clear how the law, one of nearly a dozen taking effect Dec. 1, will be enforced.
Last week, N.C. Superior Court Judge John Craig said a portion of the sweepstakes ban was too broad and violates free-speech protections in the First Amendment. He suggested games specifically identified and designed to look like video poker, craps, keno or other games were subject to the Dec. 1 ban, but others might not be.
Chase Brooks, president of the Internet-Based Sweepstakes Organization, which represents video and Internet-based sweepstakes operators, focused on Craig’s decision. The group wants the N.C. General Assembly and Gov. Bev. Perdue to legalize video poker machines again and regulate them, reaping hundreds of millions of dollars for the state.
Keith Loslin, the president of the Entertainment Group of North Carolina, said most gaming parlors have closed, as owners are concerned about being charged for violating the law, which is a felony for the second offense.
Estimates have 10,000 people losing their jobs as a result of the new law, he said.
Some operators argue they’ll find technical ways to get around the new law..
Supporters argue the games are entertainment, not gambling. Opponents argue player’s waste their money and get addicted to the experience.
In recent months, the Internet cafes have been popping up in all corners of Rocky Mount.
Rocky Mount Police Capt. Laura Fahnestock said the department is waiting on written advice from N.C. Attorney Gen. Roy Cooper’s office about how law enforcement should proceed with enforcing the new law. That is expected in the coming days.
“Then we will be able to proceed throughout the state with (enforcement of the new law). Agencies need to proceed consistently,” she said.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.