The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Local News

June 6, 2014

City stands pat on Internet sweepstakes rules

Thursday, June 5, 2014 — The City of Albemarle remained firm in its decision not to issue business licenses to Internet sweepstakes operations at Monday’s meeting.

In an official statement, the N.C. Attorney General’s Office told the council it will continue to “vigorously” defend the enforcement of the state legislature’s ban on sweepstakes/video gambling machines.

“We have to go by what the state has told us,” Mayor Ronnie Michael said.

However, what the state qualifies as a sweepstakes machine quickly became the bigger issue when former sweepstakes business owner Chuck Nance brought up the current video gaming operations at Quick Chek in Albemarle.

While more than a half dozen sweepstakes businesses shut down across the city because their machines were deemed illegal under state law, Quick Cheks machines remain in operation because they were deemed compliant.

“Obviously there are some guidelines to this, just want to know what they are,” Nance said.

Police Chief William Halliburton said the only guidelines the city is drawing are the stipulations of the state law itself.

Unlike the sweepstakes machines banned under state law, Quick Chek’s machines require skill and dexterity to play and do not give a cash payout, only store credit.

“That’s straight from the book,” Halliburton said.

Without the draw of a cash prize, the amount of profit a video gaming machine owner can hope to make is limited, he added.

Unlike the illegal machines that have been found in other jurisdictions, these kinds of machines do not bring in thousands and thousands of dollars for the business owner.

“You can get up to a $10 in-store coupon that you use to get a drink or a Snickers bar and that’s it,” Halliburton said.

“People are not crowding into line at Quick Chek in order to win a Pepsi. But if a business wants to open up with a room full of machines that allow you to win Snickers bars, they can certainly do that.”

Nance was not discouraged at the thought though.

“My request was that I’d get some guidelines and if I’m able to do what the chief has suggested, then that’s perfect guidelines,” Nance said.

“I can do in-store credit.”

However, when Nance mentioned using that in-store credit toward the purchase of gift cards, Halliburton said that would be a step too far.

“If he were to do that I would seize his machines,” Halliburton said.

Nowhere in the state’s statute on sweepstakes gaming are gift cards or gift certificates mentioned explicitly, but Halliburton said that would essentially equate to a cash prize.

“That goes against the heart of the law,” Halliburton said.

The issue of what constitutes a cash payout isn’t new.

In Onslow County, a sheriff  shut down video gaming machines owned by Sandhill Amusements that offered gift cards as one of their prizes. However, a superior court has issued an injunction on the matter and it is slated to go before court.

Other prizes such as alcohol or tobacco products could lead to controversy as well.

“It’s easy to understand why there’s so much confusion here,” Councilman Benton Dry said.

As a matter of state law, the council will be asking the district attorney to consider doing an informational session for business owners like Nance.

“We can’t keep spending time on this issue every meeting,” Councilman Dexter Townsend said.

“I believe they should have a hand in this.”

To submit story ideas, contact Shannon Beamon at (704) 982-2121 ext. 24 or at shannon@stanlynewspress.com.

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