Here’s hoping sweepstakes ban sticks

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The N.C. Supreme Court last month gave opponents of Internet sweepstakes cafes in North Carolina something that no other court has provided: The power to shut ’em down.

It’s hard to find much good to say about the cafes. They supposedly sell Internet time to customers who are far more interested in stepping up to the provided computers and taking their chances on sweepstakes games. Sweepstakes are little more than video gambling, no matter how the games are marketed.

But even as we celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling against the cafes, we have to agree with Rocky Mount Councilman W.B. Bullock, who spoke this week to Telegram staff writer John Henderson about the games.

“I believe (the cafes are closing),” Bullock told Henderson, “when I see the padlocks.”

Even as the N.C. Attorney General’s office was preparing instructions for North Carolina sheriffs to begin enforcing the ban, Internet cafe operators were scrambling to load new software in hopes of steering around the letter of the law.

That has been standard operating procedure for the cafes for much of the past five years. A court rules one way. A lawyer refines the operation to comply with the latest ruling. The sweepstakes cafes are back in business.

We’d like to think the ruling from on high will put an end to the legal maneuvering, but there’s little reason to be so optimistic. The games prey on folks who desperately lay down their money in hopes of a big payday. Sadly, there’s no shortage of patrons, it seems.

Rocky Mount has joined other cities that collect licensing fees from the businesses for each machine in such an establishment. Barring strong enforcement of the Supreme Court ban, taxing the operations seems the best weapon to stop their spread.