07/02/10 — Internet parlors next on state's agenda

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Internet parlors next on state's agenda

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 2, 2010 1:46 PM

Now that the budget has been approved -- the most pressing task for the General Assembly during the short session -- local legislators are turning their attention elsewhere, including toward the proposed ban on Internet sweepstakes cafes.

Already approved by the Senate with Sens. Don Davis, D-Greene, and David Rouzer, R-Johnston, voting for it, the proposed ban is now in the House, where, if it reaches a floor vote, at least two representatives say they are likely to approve it, although not without some reservations.

"I think that'll come to a vote this year. It's a very controversial bill, but I think we'll take it up. In the beginning I was definitely going to vote to ban it," Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, said.

Since then, he said he has talked to the owners of such facilities and understands that they do have a good bit of money tied up in their businesses.

"I'd like to see us put a moratorium on them and give those that are open an opportunity to do a one- to two-year phase-out. I think that's the fairest way to do it since they've invested in their businesses," he said.

However, since the only reason the businesses are able to be open in the first place is because of a legal loophole, he does believe they should be banned -- and he thinks a straight yes or no vote is more likely than his compromise solution.

Rep. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, thinks the issue needs to be studied further before a decision is made.

"It's gambling," he said, indicating that he would likely vote for the ban if it came to that. "But anytime you've got something this big that affects this many people, you don't need to rush into it."

But, he said, he would be surprised if it came to a vote before the end of next week.

"(The leadership) know either way they go on it they're going to upset a lot of people, and we've got votes coming up in November," he said.

Also hoping for an opportunity to study the issue further is Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, who said he has received about 1,000 e-mails on the subject, most of them wanting to keep the parlors open.

"I want to hear the pros and cons. I really think that we need to study it and see what it's all about," he said, not committing to a vote one way or the other. "I've visited some of them to see what was going on. It does seem like it's gambling to me, but the people I've talked to say they'd rather give people a choice of what they want to do, especially since we have the lottery."

And that's the sticking point for several of those in the House who say they would also be open to taking another look at the lottery.

"From my standpoint, the people who can least afford to be in there are the ones in there. It's maybe not different from the lottery," Braxton said. "I wasn't here when the lottery was passed, and I can't say how I would have voted, but I'd have been hard-pressed to support the lottery. I don't think you need to balance education on the backs of poor people."

And so, he said, perhaps it's time for the Legislature to take a look at gambling as a whole -- although that's probably not something that will happen this year.

"If we're going to look at gambling, and this is gambling, then the state needs to decide if it's going to allow gambling, and if we are, then maybe we need to allow the whole gambit, including casinos," Braxton said.

Other bills that are more likely to come up this year are more local in nature, with the exception of the ethics legislation package being pushed for by Gov. Beverly Perdue.

Those other bills include several pieces of education legislation, such as one to identify at-risk students earlier and to develop personalized plans for them, and legislation to give local governments more flexibility in using their 911 funds.

Specific to Wayne County is a bill that would put the Goldsboro-Wayne airport strictly under the control of Wayne County.

"There's a lot of local bills still in committee that need to be passed. They are still working their way through," Braxton said.

But others, Sager added, could just as well wait until next year as they try to wrap up the session by July 10 at the latest.

"We need to go ahead and get out of Raleigh," he said.