CLAYTON — Following the state Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the state’s ban on video sweepstakes machines, the future of the four gaming sites in Clayton hangs in uncertainty as county sheriffs across the state wait for direction.
The Supreme Court’s decision on December 14 overturned the state Appeals Court rulings that said regulating the games violated the constitutional right to free speech. The ruling will go into effect January 3, but there has been little guidance given to local law enforcement to advise on how to enforce the new legislation.
In Johnston County, sheriff’s deputies work with Alcohol Law Enforcement to regulate the gaming locations, which are often housed in businesses that bill themselves as a faxing or copy store. Customers buy Internet time or phone minutes at the sites to gain access to computers where they can play games for hours to potentially win cash or prizes.
The fate of the video sweepstakes sites has been in question since 2010, when the General Assembly outlawed them as forms of gambling. In March of this year, the Court of Appeals struck down the ban and that cleared the path for the sites to not only remain open, but for new sites to be planted. The most recent site added in Clayton is Net Media, opened in July, and located in Food Lion Plaza.
Now, customers who regularly go to the sweepstakes sites have a gloom hanging over them, with the prospect that what for many is a hobby, will no longer be allowed. Such customers at P & K Internet Cafe on U.S. 70 laughed and said they are using up as much time as possible at the site, since they believe it will close on January 3. The manager of the store did not return a call for comment on when the location would be closed.
Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell said the local ALE has not given them a plan of action yet for what to do about the locations that are open and operating in the county.
“We’re waiting to see how they’re going to move forward and we’ll partner with them to see how they’re going to enforce it,” said Bizzell.
Bizzell said the recent example of the video sweepstakes stores reminds him of what it was like when the state outlawed moonshine, and then went into the sale of alcohol.
“Years ago moonshining was outlawed, then the state went into the sale of alcohol,” said Bizzell. Similarly, he said, “the state outlawed poker machines and then went into the gambling business by allowing the lottery.” To him, the state may eventually profit from outlawing the stores.
“The bottom line is they put the little man out of business and the state went into business,” said Bizzell.
What’s more important for the law enforcement, he thinks, is to spend their time getting drug dealers and thieves rather than “somebody that chooses to sit at a video gaming machine and throw their money at it.”
The next step is as unclear to the town of Clayton as to where to go from here. “We don’t have any information yet or direction from the state,” said David DeYoung, the town’s planning director.
Until there is clarity and guidance about how the ban will be enforced, customers will likely continue to flock to the dimly-lit quasi-casinos and not waste any time waiting.