01/03/13 — Internet cafes closed

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Internet cafes closed

By John Joyce
Published in News on January 3, 2013 1:46 PM

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Internet cafes around the state went dark today because the North Carolina decision to ban video sweepstakes machines went into effect at midnight.

The State Supreme Court-issued ban on Internet sweepstakes cafes went into effect today, but local law enforcement officers have been left scratching their heads as to whose responsibility it is to enforce the edict that the businesses shut down.

"We're waiting for more clarity. It is not real clear because if they reconfigure the games, can they stay open?" Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders asked when he was questioned about enforcing the ban this morning.

Last month, the state Supreme Court denied a request from the sweepstakes game industry to delay an earlier decision that determined the sweepstakes halls are gambling operations. The court's ruling went into effect statewide today.

Goldsboro police Chief Jeff Stewart, in an interview just after the State Supreme Court's decision to ban the gaming cafes was announced, said enforcement over such establishments was under the domain of the Sheriff's Office.

Winders said that statement is not true.

The primary function of the cafes is gambling, according to the law, so that is overseen by Alcohol Law Enforcement officers, the sheriff said.

The existence of the cafes themselves is primarily determined by the cities. There are some county regulations regarding location of the businesses, but it is the municipalities that can issue permits for them and collect fees from them to operate.

"The ALE's primary function is gambling and alcohol," Winders said. "And if the cities and towns issued the permits and get the revenues from these places, who is supposed to enforce them?"

That includes who has the responsibility of enforcing the state law.

Winders suggested that a much simpler solution, now that the gambling sites are illegal, would be to simply have the municipalities pull their permits. Without the permits, which in some cases are accompanied by a large fee paid to the city, the businesses would not legally be able to open.

Winders did not address who would then enforce the closings should a cafe attempt to stay open, adding that there are many law enforcement personnel across the state who are trying to determine which officers have the duty to police the ban and to make sure they are in compliance with the law.

He said he will wait for instructions from the state or district attorney's office before actively using local resources to determine whether the cafes have closed.

In a statement released today, state Attorney General Roy Cooper says he doesn't anticipate widespread Internet cafe raids across the state today.

All of the Internet cafes called today either did not answer or were already closed.

It's unclear whether the sweepstakes parlors that have opened across the state will stay closed or whether their owners will find a way to comply with the law, as some have said they will try to do.