06/23/10 — Internet parlors -- endangered species?

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Internet parlors -- endangered species?

By Laura Collins
Published in News on June 23, 2010 1:46 PM

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Bridget Allen plays an Internet gambling game at Goldsboro Internet World. A measure to close Internet parlors like this one passed the N.C. Senate Monday.

In the wake of the state Senate approving a ban on Internet parlors, local officials and residents are split on what they would like to see happen when the House votes on the issue.

The legislation, which was approved by the Senate almost unanimously Monday night, would close businesses that sell Internet time so people can play computer games to win cash or prizes -- what some say is just another form of video gambling.

State Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, said if the state is going to be against gambling it needs to stand its ground, which includes the Internet businesses.

"I personally don't think we should allow gambling. As long as we take that stance, we shouldn't allow Internet cafes or anything else that skirts around the law," Braxton said. "But the state needs to decide on whether it's going to allow gambling or not. If we're not, we don't need to allow Internet cafes or these other types of visionary games to get around the gambling law."

Braxton said he plans to vote for the ban.

Rep. Efton Sager, a Republican, said he is leaning toward voting for the ban, but he added what he would really like is more time to consider the issue.

"I would like to have it move a little slower. I think you need to listen to all people on the situation," he said.

One of the factors he said that is pushing him to vote for the ban is the state League of Municipalities, which he said supports the measure.

"It's a tough decision. It's one of those things you don't know for sure. You're taking the views of the municipalities and they seem to think it's a problem. All the different policy groups are opposed to it. But a lot of people want to keep them at the same time."

One of those people is Chuck Allen, mayor pro tem for the city of Goldsboro. Allen said the Internet cafes aren't offering anything people can't already find on the Internet.

"I think they're just in there doing things they could be doing at home anyway," he said. "We see it as another means of revenue."

Allen said the city receives money from the businesses through fees -- about $1,500-$2,000 per business and about $500 per machine at each business.

"My personal opinion is that they're fine; they just need to be regulated," he said. "You have to have controls. We want them to be safe and credible, the same things we would want of any other business."

Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders said he doesn't think the ban will curb gambling, but it might ease some residents' concerns.

"Of course people are always going to gamble regardless, whether it's legal or not," Winders said. "Of the complaints I have received from the Internet cafes, most of them are spouses, believe it or not. You have some people that just don't need to be gambling."

If the ban passes, Winders said he doesn't think enforcement of the ban should fall to him, his deputies or the police department.

"I never thought we should be enforcing the poker machines. We have enough on our plate. In my opinion, if they have to have enforcement, it should be done by ALE (the state Alcohol Law Enforcement agency)," he said. "We are limited, as well as the police department."

But Nicky Parrish, who plays at Internet Sweepstakes Business Center on North William Street, said the state shouldn't ban the businesses just because some people are making bad choices.

"I've heard about people spending their rent there, but you have to have self-control. If it's money for your light bill, pay your light bill," Parrish said.

Parrish, who owns Gold City Tattoo Co., next door to the Internet cafe, said he hasn't spent any money at the business that he didn't win at the business. His first time in, Parrish said he paid $10 and won $189 on the Lucky Sevens game. He said his friend paid $20 and won $540 on his first time in.

"You can spend $5 and win $100. It's just like life, it belongs to chance. You can spend a little and come out with a lot or spend a lot and come back with a little," he said, and added that the most he has lost in the cafe is $40.

Parrish said he thinks the reason the state is trying to ban the businesses is because it wants to run a monopoly on gambling. The state operates several lotteries.

"I think it just expands the entertainment in the area," Parrish said. "But the state is having a problem with it because it's probably taking away from the scratch-off tickets. It's just like any other business, the state needs to allow other brands out there."

Another patron, Virginia Griffin, was playing The Dragon's Emperor game inside Internet Sweepstakes Business Center on Tuesday night.

"I do it for relaxation. I come in after work, unwind and win a few dollars here and there," she said.

Ms. Griffin estimated she plays the games two or three times a week, and said what she likes about the business is the relaxing atmosphere and the people she meets there. Her goal Tuesday was winning a free spin.

In five minutes she played about six $1-$2 games before running out of the initial $10 she paid at the start of her session. She decided to pay more to keep playing.

"I want to see what the free spin is all about," she said. "I haven't got that yet."