Rocky Mount Police Chief James Moore talked tough last month in a letter of warning to local Internet cafes, but with little follow-through, the threat to shut down sweepstakes games is hollow rhetoric.
As Telegram staff writer John Henderson has reported in a series of stories, the chief sent letters to Internet sweepstakes cafe operators, reminding them of a recent court ruling that upheld a state law that bans the operations. But as they have done so many times before, the sweepstakes folks regrouped, rebooted and tweaked the software enough so that their lawyers could argue that the reconfigured games are legal.
That probably will be the case until the latest sweepstakes version is hauled into court yet again. Moore’s letter put a little fear in local operators for a short while. Most of the cafes in Rocky Mount closed their doors after the notices went out.
But privately, several operators said they wanted to see how tough the police department was prepared to enforce the shutdown. After a week or so of no action, many of the Internet cafes reopened.
Rocky Mount is hardly alone in that respect. The town of Roanoke Rapids has all but gone to bat for the operations. Officials there were relieved to lease the former Randy Parton Theater to an Internet sweepstakes cafe. Once an embarrassing boondoggle, the former Parton theater now is generating rent and licensing fees for the town.
And perhaps, ultimately, that’s the road North Carolina cities and towns should follow. It’s painfully apparent that the Internet sweepstakes operators will continue to tweak and blow smoke to stay ahead of the latest legal requirements. The patience of city officials can last only so long.
If the city isn’t prepared to follow through on its warnings, it should raise licensing fees and make money off the centers. That, at least, would offer some small consolation for having to put up with these games of prey.