The video poker, video sweepstakes, video this-and-that parlors that have come and gone and come again in North Carolina are bad for families and bad for the state. The industry, which makes a hefty dollar on folks who buy Internet or phone card time and then try to uncover potential cash and prizes using a mouse and a computer screen, is fighting to keep those dollars coming. Patrons (one can almost hear the amusement game companies and video parlor operators rubbing their hands together) in many cases come in and spend and spend and play and play.
Addictive? That’s a call for psychologists. But the behavior and the symptoms are virtually identical to gambling, and so is the “industry.”
Lawmakers outlawed video sweepstakes machines in 2010, and the industry has won some victories in lower courts, which have seemed to buy the argument that limits on this type of thing are akin to infringing on free speech as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.
Certainly those rights are nothing to be trifled with, and if the law as now written does indeed walk on them, then the court should strike it down and let legislators give it another go. But the state’s Solicitor General, John Maddrey, says speech is not the issue at the core of this dispute. Maddrey says people can go to McDonalds, for example, and play a game by getting Monopoly pieces with the goal of winning a prize, but they don’t sit there ordering food all day and then use an electronic machine that’s on site to determine their winnings.
But just as gamblers often play and play and play until their pockets are empty, so those drawn to video sweepstakes parlors may well do the same. The name and the game may be a little different, but the gambling instinct, that craving, that ... yes ... addiction, are the same.
People spend their money, and many of them likely are people who don’t have much to spare, simply because they want that thrill of the action. Is that every single person who walks into a sweepstakes parlor? No, but it wouldn’t be a far-fetched bet that many of those who play a lot are not helping themselves and their families.
Indeed, part of the reason North Carolina and other states regulate this industry is that lawmakers recognize the damage that gambling, particularly gambling with easy access, can do to individuals and to families. The state has a right to do that, as long as those constitutional rights are protected.
This battle has dragged on because the industry won’t give up a high-profit business without a fight, and there’s so much money in it that the fight is worthwhile, for them. But it is worthwhile for the state to persist. And the notion that this industry can hide behind the Constitution in trying to protect its profit margin, even if innocent bystanders in a family are harmed, can’t be taken at face value. The state needs to keep fighting, and if need be, to keep legislating.