Sweepstakes parlors in North Carolina have had more names and games than there are colors at a chameleon convention. State officials, to their credit, have come down on the not-too-disguised gambling operations time and again, shutting them down and getting support from the courts only to see the parlors reopen with new games and software that the industry pronounces are different and not gambling.
Cat and mouse, it might be called, even though North Carolinas Supreme Court unanimously upheld the states sweepstakes ban.
And of course, as the cat chases the mouse, the industry is investing heavily in lobbyists to push its cause with state lawmakers, that cause being some form of legalization. Their argument is tempting in a state where budget-balancing is difficult, the unemployment rate is 9.4 percent (as contrasted with the 7.7 percent national rate) and the needs for education and public services are growing.
Industry advocates say government could make a killing by charging video sweepstakes operators (or Internet cafes or whatever theyre calling themselves these days) a fee per machine and tax the industrys profits. And they say the industry provides thousands of jobs.
But state officials who have long opposed allowing video sweepstakes parlors rightly say they just amount to gambling houses by what seems to be a more innocuous name. Says attorney Eddie Caldwell, who runs the North Carolina Sheriffs Association: If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. The argument that the new software is somehow legal is a smoke screen.
That's right. This form of gambling is displayed on a computer screen and labeled as if it were just a way to pass the time, there are payouts of one form or another and those with gambling addictions are vulnerable. And if theyre vulnerable, their families are vulnerable. Theres a tip-of-the-iceberg issue as well. If the industry succeeds in breaking the states back on these games, it wont be long until more games are on the way, games that are ever-closer to casino games of chance.
Attorney General Roy Cooper, whos fought the good fight against the industry in court, says he will continue to do so.
For years, he said, this industry has tried every trick in the book to get around the laws the legislature has passed to shut them down.
Whats needed now, and we understand that it will require personnel and time and trouble, is for local law enforcement all over the state to focus on shutting down the parlors that exist while the Supreme Court ruling stands. While some legislators may try to pass legislation favorable to the industry, theres no point in waiting on that. Take action now. Closing these operations might, in fact, frustrate some to the point of simply leaving the state.
And taking that step might also make it more difficult for lawmakers to pass anything giving the industry a fresh start.
Gambling is hurtful. The state has every right to protect citizens (and especially innocent bystanders in families) from this type of damaging industry.