CONETOE — Edgecombe County Sheriff Clee Atkinson is making clear he is not going to tolerate sweepstakes establishments illegally operating in his jurisdiction.
On Tuesday morning, a location in the rural Conetoe area southeast of Tarboro was shut down.
One by one, computers and machines were removed and loaded by deputies and state Alcohol Law Enforcement agents into trailers from the location, which is at N.C. 42 and Thigpen Road.
“At the end of the day, we want people to do what’s right,” Atkinson told the Telegram at the scene. “And if the state is saying it’s illegal, I’ve got to make sure I enforce that law.”
Atkinson said the establishment had been a source of numerous complaints by residents and that he and his team had been investigating the location for roughly three to four months.
Atkinson said his information was that the location continued to remain open even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“And that was putting a lot of peoples’ lives in danger,” Atkinson said.
Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday announced a list of types of businesses that had to shut down by 5 p.m. today in North Carolina, including sweepstakes establishments, as a health and safety measure.
Atkinson made clear he and his team already had gotten the manpower in place to focus on the location at N.C. 42 and Thigpen.
The presence of sweepstakes businesses and equipment have long been the subject of controversy and legal disputes in the state.
The state Court of Appeals, in a ruling in mid-October, overturned a lower court decision that had kept law enforcement from shutting off certain kinds of video sweepstakes machines designed to give patrons who purchase gift cards the chance to win prizes.
Attorneys and officials throughout the state are watching to see what happens next because the case is on appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Atkinson said his office sent out letters to sweepstakes operators in Edgecombe County asking for compliance with the state Court of Appeals ruling.
Atkinson said most of the operators shut off their machines, for which he said he is grateful.
Of the location at N.C. 42 and Thigpen, Atkinson said, “I do know this: The business was doing well.
“And you could see that by the amount of traffic that was here late nights, over the weekends,” Atkinson said, noting the parking area was full of vehicles.
Atkinson declined to provide the name of the owner or proprietor at the location at N.C. 42 and Thigpen, but he noted there is no name on the building, with the latter having become a source of concern to him and his team.
Overall, Atkinson said he considers sweepstakes to be gambling.
Atkinson spoke about the negative spin-offs of gambling, namely people becoming addicted and the breaking up of families and households.
In fact, Atkinson said his office had missing persons cases and that deputies decided to begin searching sweepstakes establishments.
Atkinson said deputies began finding elderly people were in sweepstakes establishments for as long as eight to 10 hours a day.
Atkinson also expressed concern about people who will try to rob sweepstakes establishments and try to get into them to harm other people.
“Where there’s money, bad guys will come,” he said.