On Sweepstakes Parlors, City Plays the Waiting Game

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City Councilors are waiting for state and county decisions before taking any action against Raleigh’s sweepstakes parlors.

At Tuesday’s Law and Public Safety Committee meeting, City Attorney Tom McCormick said city staff has prepared a draft ordinance that would regulate where sweepstakes parlors can operate, but should wait for more direction from the state and the county.

The state has prepared a bill to allow sweepstakes parlors. House Bill 547 would legalize, tax and regulate video gaming, but the bill has been sitting in the Committee for Commerce and Job Development since early April.

McCormick also said Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby is investigating the sweepstakes parlors that remain open to make sure they are operating legally. At this point, he hasn’t made any announcement that they aren’t.

Sweepstakes parlors were banned three years ago, and the Supreme Court upheld that ban earlier this year.

Some sweepstakes parlors remain open because operators say they have changed the software to comply with the ban. Users no longer have to play a game to find out if they’ve won.

The machines have skirted gambling laws in the past because the games have predetermined winners and take chance out of the equation.

McCormick said it’s up to the district attorney to decide if these changes to the games are legal.

The draft ordinance is ready, but McCormick said he would need more investigation before it could be implemented. Aside from anecdotes, the city doesn’t have any evidence that these parlors are detrimental to the neighborhoods in which they operate.

“It would require more work to assemble that evidence to back it up,” McCormick said.

City Councilor Eugene Weeks said part of the issue is that noise, violence and other problems are spilling into nearby properties. Parlor owners can claim the issue isn’t with their business.

Some also operate 24 hours a day.

Week’s district has an abundance of sweepstakes parlors and he has long sought a ban or regulation.

McCormick said the City Council has the power to regulate the hours of a business, but to his knowledge, the Council has never exercised that right.

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