05/01/13 — Internet cafes are on notice to close

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Internet cafes are on notice to close

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

As of midnight today, all Internet sweepstakes and video gaming establishments still in operation in Wayne County are subject to prosecution by the District Attorney's Office.

The sweepstakes locations were ordered by law enforcement to shut down by May 1.

Officials say all the locations have closed.

An injunction preventing lawmen from investigating and charging Internet cafe operators has been lifted in accordance with the State Supreme Court's decision to uphold legislation banning the existence of such operations.

District Attorney Branny Vickory said the battle over Internet-based gambling has been carrying on for years.

He stressed that neither he nor the Sheriff's Office is "shutting anyone down." They are simply enforcing the laws that are on the books.

The law says that any prize revealed "by way of an entertaining display" is illegal, Vickory said.

What constitutes an "entertaining display" is the crux of the whole argument.

"I'm sure if they advertised that they we're selling Internet or phone time and revealing prizes in a bland way that they would be allowed to continue to operate," Vickory said.

The Wayne County Sheriff's Office, along with police departments in Goldsboro, Pikeville, Walnut Creek, Fremont and Mount Olive, disseminated letters to Internet cafe operators in their respective jurisdictions stating that they must be shut down by today or face prosecution.

Maj. Tom Effler of the Wayne County Sheriff's Office hand-delivered some of the notices Friday.

"We told them that if they continued to operate, they would be investigated and, if they were found to be breaking the law, we would prosecute them," Effler said.

Internet cafe owners say the rules are biased.

"It's unfair for the state to be in the gaming or liquor business and no one else can," said Parkash Patel, owner of Xtech Internet Sweepstakes Cafe.

Patel owns locations in Rosewood, Goldsboro and Mount Olive.

He said he plans to shut down and comply with the Sheriff's Office's instructions, but he added that he is not so sure this is truly the end of Internet gaming in Wayne County.

There is currently a bill, House Bill 547, matriculating through the N.C. Senate proposing to legalize Internet sweepstakes as a state-regulated and licensed business.

In the interim, Patel's 21 employees are unemployed as of today.

"To be honest with you, if my corporation is shut down, we're not paying them anything, and their unemployment falls on the state."

Workers at Lucky 888 on North Spence Avenue and at Goldsboro Internet World on North Berkeley Boulevard said they, too, are out of a job.

The employees spoke on the condition of anonymity, but none could explain exactly why they were being closed down.

"They have the scratch-offs and Lotto, but some of that money goes to education. I'm all for that, I'd give some of my money to students if (the state) would let me keep my job," a Lucky 888 employee said.

In the State Supreme Court's "Opinion of the Court," by Justice Robin E. Hudson after the decision to uphold the ban against Internet sweepstakes in the case of Hest Technologies V. The State of North Carolina, the judge wrote that the case against the cafes "has arisen in the context of repeated efforts by the General Assembly to combat the perceived 'vice and dissipation' of gambling."

The cafe operators said the only "vice" they have seen are occasional attempts by thieves to break in and steal their computers.

City Finance Director Kaye Scott, in a projection for the city of Goldsboro's next fiscal year, estimated that the closing of Internet Cafe's in the city represents a $72,000 reduction in revenue.

"That money comes directly from the privilege license fees," she said.