The Rocky Mount Police Department has continued to allow Internet sweepstakes cafes to remain open nearly two weeks after threatening to close them down.
A few of the cafes shut down after the N.C. Supreme Court upheld a state law banning the video games. Several other cafes closed temporarily and reopened with new software that store owners said complied with the law.
The new software reveals to a customer whether they have won a prize before they play any games. Customers also receive Internet time for their money. Prior to the software changes, the customers had to play games, which usually involve matching numbers or symbols on a spinning wheel, to learn if they had won a prize.
A legal challenge to allow the new form of software came to an end Monday.
Davidson County sheriff’s deputies charged the operators of a cafe in Midway with illegal possession of electronic machines and other devices for sweepstakes. The move came after the N.C. Supreme Court said a 2010 law banned the machines.
Owners of International Internet Technologies filed a complaint earlier this month saying a recent change in the software made it comply with state law.
The suit named Gov. Pat McCrory and Davidson County Sheriff David S. Grice as defendants.
Last week, N.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Johnson wrote an order to temporarily block police from seizing any products from businesses that use software licensed by International Internet Technologies. But on Monday, the judge dismissed the temporary restraining order and dismissed the lawsuit.
He made his decision after weighing legal motions filed by attorneys for N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office.
The impact of the ruling on local sweepstakes cafes is unclear.
In “notice of enforcement” letters sent by certified letter to the cafe owners last month, Rocky Mount Police Chief James Moore stated that the department on or after Jan. 24 will begin enforcement against owners, operators and employees involved in this “illegal activity.”
“Notice is to provide a ‘grace period’ prior to any enforcement action,” Moore stated in the letter. One cafe owner said when he called the police department to find out whether his software made his business legal, Moore personally threatened to have him thrown in jail and confiscate his property unless he shut the cafe down.
But so far, none of the owners or employees of more than a dozen cafes in the city have been arrested.
Rocky Mount Cpl. Mike Lewis said in an emailed statement Monday that the police department will notify the Telegram if there is an arrest related to “this crime.”
Meanwhile, an employee of KD Games at 229 Lawrence Circle said the uncertainty over whether she will keep her job is causing her stress.
She said some customers are now afraid that they will be arrested for coming into the business.
“People are stressed to the max with this stuff,” she said.
Customers also don’t like the software that was recently installed on the machines to make them legal that pre-reveal prize winnings or losses before they play a game, the woman said.
“It’s messing up the games,” she said. “It’s like somebody telling you, ‘You’re going to die tomorrow.’ That takes all the fun out of living.”
Surprisingly, though, she said business there has increased since police threatened to shut the cafes down.
Annie Silverio, a customer of KD Games on Monday who said she is a manager at another cafe, said business where she works has decreased since the software on the machines have changed revealing prizes before game rolls.
“(Customers) don’t like it but they are pretty much content with it,” she said. “We as a whole just want (government) to leave us alone.”