Garner Cleveland Record

Man charged in latest of Raleigh, Garner sweepstakes holdups

Suspect in Jan. 20 robbery
Suspect in Jan. 20 robbery

Police have arrested a man they think held up a sweepstakes parlor on Capital Boulevard on Tuesday, but they say they’re still looking for suspects in several other sweepstakes robberies.

Ephraim D’Carus Smith, 34, of 3528 Lupton St. was charged with one count of robbery with a dangerous weapon in connection with the holdup of the Good Luck Sweepstakes at 3308 Capital Blvd. at about 2:13 p.m. on Tuesday.

A tip to CrimeStoppers pointed police to Smith, and patrol officers who had his photo spotted him on Atlantic Avenue about 1:30 Thursday and stopped him less than 2 miles from the Good Luck parlor, police said.

An employee at Good Luck said a man wearing a New York Knicks baseball cap walked into the business and sat around for awhile before brandishing a gun and robbing the place, according to a recording of the 911 call made public Thursday.

“He said ‘Don’t say anything. I’ll put the gun to your head and pull the trigger,’” the unidentified employee told an emergency dispatcher.

The employee turned away from the gunman and put his head on the desk. The robber grabbed an undisclosed amount of cash and fled.

The employee went to the front of the store and saw the man get into a gold-colored Ford Explorer that veered out of the parking lot onto Capital Boulevard, according to the 911 recording.

Raleigh police are looking at possible connections among the sweepstakes parlor stickups over the last month and are comparing notes with Garner police about a holdup at a parlor there last week.

Police spokesman Jim Sughrue declined comment when asked why criminals are targeting sweepstakes parlors.

“The best interests of public safety would not be served by discussing the similarities among the cases,” Sughrue wrote in an email Thursday. “The same would hold for speculation concerning the reasons, if any, these businesses may have been targeted.”

Sughrue said the department’s district officers are providing the businesses with crime prevention information.

Most of the city’s sweepstakes parlors require customers to press a buzzer at the front door before they are allowed in. A sign at the entrance of Magic Gold Sweepstakes at 4020 Capital Blvd. says patrons cannot enter if they are wearing hoodies or if their faces are covered.

Nonetheless, a Magic Gold employee said Thursday that the man who robbed the place on New Year’s Eve got into the business when a patron talking on a mobile phone allowed him in. The suspect, who was with an accomplice, pulled out a gun and robbed parlor, the employee said.

The holdups in Raleigh began Dec. 21, when two men robbed Treasure Sweepstakes at 3689 New Bern Ave. just before 10 p.m. At least one of the pair had a gun, police said.

Two more robberies happened on Dec. 23 and Jan. 15 on South Saunders Street and Crabtree Boulevard, police said. Police say two men tried rob Capital Sweepstakes on Capital Boulevard on Dec. 30, but found the door locked and left.

In Garner, three men, one showing a gun, robbed AIA Sweepstakes about 11:45 p.m. on Jan. 13, police said.

Similarities among suspect descriptions in the cases suggest connections, as did other factors that police have not disclosed.

State lawmakers outlawed sweepstakes casinos in 2001. Attorney General Roy Cooper likened them to the payday lenders that state lawmakers also outlawed in 2001 and shut down by 2006.

But the manufacturers of the sweepstakes machines have managed to circumvent the law by updating the software and claiming the machines are legal.