HICKORY N.C. — The video sweepstakes industry believes it has found a way around state law that bans its businesses, with some operators in the area reopening.
But state officials are saying local law enforcement should continue enforcing the ban.
After the NC Supreme Court ruled to uphold the state law that bans video sweepstakes, the sweepstakes gaming industry came back with a response of its own — change the games to reveal winnings before a hand is played. The industry has fought for years legitimize itself in the state.
It’s a $2 billion industry in North Carolina, said Tony Whisnant, owner of sweepstakes businesses in the area and throughout the state.
Whisnant plans to keep his sweepstakes business in Caldwell and Burke counties closed. But he will open a location on Springs Road in Hickory and one in Charlotte. He said Charlotte police are accepting the pre-reveal games as legal.
Robert Klinginsmith, who also owns video sweepstakes parlors in the area and state, said he plans two locations, one on Springs Road in Hickory and one in Long View, that offer pre-reveal games.
While Klinginsmith would like to open other locations, he said law enforcement in some places is more aggressive and he’s afraid his equipment would be seized. He said his lawyers have told him the pre-reveal games are in compliance.
Getting a definitive answer on the newest changes to the games has been hard, he said. Klinginsmith said sweepstakes operators and law enforcement are in a stalemate.
“If they (law enforcement) can’t give us their opinion, who do we go to,” Klinginsmith asked.
Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid said his department is enforcing the sweepstakes ban and the pre-reveal games don’t change anything.
Hickory Police Department Maj. Clyde Deal said police in the city are enforcing the sweepstakes ban on the old games and have been checking sweepstakes locations. He said one reopened in the city Thursday with the pre-reveal sweepstakes games.
Deal said his department is checking into the pre-reveal games, consulting with its legal team and will talk to the district attorney’s office about the new games. He said there may be several different versions of the pre-reveal games so they’ll have to wait and see what the sweepstakes gaming industry distributes. But, he said, the department will continue to monitor the gaming and will get a ruling from the district attorney.
The change in the games doesn’t change the state’s stance on video sweepstakes.
Noelle Talley, spokesperson for the NC Department of Justice, said, “Our attorneys are fielding questions from local law enforcement and District Attorneys about how to enforce the recent Supreme Court ruling and how the law applies to changes the sweepstakes industry claims to have made to games. We’re recommending that law enforcement investigate video sweepstakes operations in their area to determine what games are being played and then take any enforcement action they think necessary against violators.”
Talley added, “We believe the law and the ruling are clear and we’re ready to defend their enforcement.”
Clifton Smith, chief assistant district attorney for the 25th District, said, “The District Attorney’s Office will review the facts of each case submitted by law enforcement for prosecution and advise law enforcement officers pursuant to the North Carolina Constitution.”
Smith also said, “It is only after an act has occurred that one can determine whether the act was in violation of North Carolina law.”
Last week, Talley said the ruling from the state Supreme Court is a clear, definitive decision, which is something the state hasn’t had before.
In mid-December, the NC Supreme Court reversed an appellate court decision that said the state’s law banning video sweepstakes gaming was overbroad and restricted free speech.
State lawmakers and the video sweepstakes industry have been playing cat and mouse for years. When legislators pass what they believe will be a law banning video poker or sweepstakes, the industry fights the ban in the courts.