09/11/12 — Mount Olive looks at ordinance for Internet cafes

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Mount Olive looks at ordinance for Internet cafes

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 11, 2012 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Town commissioners Monday night suggested that the town's first set of rules regulating Internet cafes, or electronic gaming operations, was not only unfair, but oppressive, and delayed action until they and the public could learn more about it.

No one from the public had any comments during the public hearing on the ordinance, but board members and town attorney Carroll Turner did.

Mayor Ray McDonald Sr. said he was concerned that the public did not know about or understand what the ordinance was.

Planning Board Chairman Gena Knode reminded the board that there was a public hearing on the measure, but McDonald said he still needs more public input before acting on the measure.

Board members agreed and were unanimous in their decision to table the ordinance until next month. In the meantime, McDonald said he and board members could talk with Mrs. Knode and Town Inspector Danny Keel to learn more about the ordinance.

As proposed, the businesses would be limited to C-2 (heavy commercial) and C-4 (major highway corridors).

It would establish a minimum distance of 1,500 feet between the businesses or from schools, churches, libraries or cemeteries. It also limits the number of machines to 20 per business.

That, along with limiting hours of operation from 8 a.m. to midnight, were sticking points for some board members and Turner who worried that the businesses were being unfairly singled out.

McDonald asked how the ordinance would affect the revenues the town makes from existing Internet cafes.

"Your revenue will not change," she said. "You will continue to get the same amount of revenue. We did not address the revenue at all. You will continue to charge whatever you are charging."

The annual privilege license is $2,500 and there is a $500 fee per machine, Keel said. The two existing Internet gaming operations each have about 20 machines, he said.

Keel said the ordinance included limits on operating hours because the existing businesses are open 24 hours a day.

The existing businesses would be "grandfathered in" and not affected by the ordinance, he said.

Town Manager Charles Brown said he had been questioned about requiring the businesses to have a registered surveyor to certify that it meets the 1,500-foot setback.

"Can we not just measure the distance?" he said. "It seems like that is putting an expense -- a registered surveyor is not going to be inexpensive."

"The way I look at it if they are going to spend $20,000 for a privilege license then they can probably pay a surveyor," Keel said.

"How did this come about?" McDonald said. "Was it because we didn't have (an ordinance) and the Planning Board felt we ought to address it?"

Keel said the ordinance was suggested after someone approached the town about opening a cafe in town. He said he and Brown had talked about it and a decision was reached to allow it since there was no ordinance prohibiting it.

McDonald asked Turner if he had read the ordinance and whether he had a recommendation.

"I realize this is a business that some people don't view as a positive thing," he said. "Right now they are legal. The state, as you well know, has tried for the last five or 10 years to outlaw these. They have lost in court every single time. It appears it is something that is going to be with us for a while.

"These outfits are making money. There is no doubt about that, but I don't think we can legislate morality."

There is no other business in Mount Olive that the town tells when to open or close, he said.

Commissioner Ed Cromartie said he once worked on getting a group home in Mount Olive. It had to be a certain distance from existing facilities, he said.

"So it is not outside the authority of this board to regulate something that it feels needs to be regulated," he said. "That is not a precedent. That is just the way it is.

"All I want you all to be able to do is to enforce the things you put down there, and to give all citizens an opportunity to flourish as well as they can within the guidelines of what is written down."