12/16/10 — Parlors find way to keep gaming

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Parlors find way to keep gaming

By Gary Popp
Published in News on December 16, 2010 2:00 PM

A state law banning machine-based sweepstakes video gaming took effect Dec. 1, but at least two such gaming establishments in Goldsboro are still in operation after their owners changed software to make their machines legal.

Tom Britt is the owner of Goldsboro Internet World, one of about eight such gaming businesses in and around Goldsboro.

Britt said he closed the shop for four days so his machines could be altered so that they are within the parameters of the new law. Britt said he did not replace any hardware. The changes were made only to the software on his gaming units.

Britt said the new law required him to discontinue the games that mimicked casino gambling, such as slotmachine style games. "We no longer have sweepstakes games. Now, we run computer arcadetype games," he said, which depend on the skill or dexterity of the player.

He was open with information regarding his business, which has been condemned by most municipal and state officials, and even provided a demonstration of the new arcade-style games.

"We have nothing to hide," Britt said. A Guilford County court ruling, which deemed one of the state law's nine subsections an infringement of freedom of speech, has impeded enforcement of the law. For now, the Goldsboro Police Department and other law enforcement agencies across the state are on standby until the ambiguity surrounding the issue is cleared up.

That could be decided when the issue is heard by the state Court of Appeals.

Capt. Al King of the Goldsboro Police Department said law enforcement officials have been given the green light to take action on eight of the nine subsections in the law. But he said authorities See PARLORS, Page 2A

remain hesitant to take action until the specifics of the law are better understood.

"We are looking for some direction out of the Attorney General's office," King said early today.

State Attorney General Roy Cooper has released this statement regarding the issue: "Video gambling should be outlawed in our state, and the courts and the legislature need to give local law enforcement clearer direction so they can enforce the law effectively. Attorneys with my office will continue to defend vigorously the ban on video gambling."

Rep. Melanie Wade Goodwin, D- Montgomery, introduced the House bill, which was passed by the full legislature and signed in law by Gov. Beverly Perdue in July.

"I think a lot of those in the law enforcement community are confused about the law, and they are erring on the side of waiting for the higher court to make a decision," Rep. Goodwin said.

Video gambling has become something of a wedge issue among lawmakers although the bill was passed in the House this summer by an 86-27 margin.

"The state has a responsibility to protect its citizenry and this is an extension of that obligation," Rep. Goodwin said. "We have seen people gamble away their entire paycheck or Social Security check, and they and their family end up destitute."

Rep. Earl Jones, D-Guilford, opposes the ban on video gaming.

"In any type of gaming activity, you are going to have people who have addictive behavior, that is part of life," Jones said.

He gave a litany of reasons why North Carolinians should have autonomy when it comes to video sweepstakes, saying he finds it hypocritical for his peers to denounce video gaming while supporting the state lottery.

"They are both gaming activities. I don't believe in hypocrisy," Jones said.

Jones said video gaming generates $480 million a year, some of which could go to reducing the state's budget deficit. He added that it makes little sense to campaign on job growth and vote against the video gaming industry.

"There are 600 businesses across the state that operate sweepstakes, employing approximately 10,000 people who make between $9 and $12 an hour," he said, adding that it is wrong to hold the state's economy hostage because some people abuse the system.

Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Haywood, is another proponent of banning electronic sweepstakes gaming.

Rapp said he wants to send a clear message to the industry.

"We don't want you operating in the state," he said. Rapp said he is frustrated by the most recent obstruction to an absolute ban of video gaming in North Carolina.

Rapp said the eight-year long game of "cat and mouse" between legislators and the video gaming industry will come to an end when the case is heard by the Appeals Court.