Smithfield Herald

Parlors close their doors

A sign at the 42 Business Center in the Cleveland community alerts customers that the business has been “forced to close” at the direction of the Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle.
A sign at the 42 Business Center in the Cleveland community alerts customers that the business has been “forced to close” at the direction of the Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle. ndunn@newsobserver.com

Sweepstakes parlors in Johnston County appear to be heeding a warning to shut down or face criminal charges.

In late September, District Attorney Susan Doyle put more than a dozen owners on notice, saying her office had evidence that each business was operating illegally. As of Nov. 5, police chiefs in Clayton and Smithfield said their parlors had closed.

This past week, the various Internet cafes and “business centers” that usually shone with colorful promotional graphics and flashing neon “Open” signs were dark and locked up. One store, the 42 Business Center in the Cleveland community, had a sign on the front door that said “We are forced to close our doors at the direction of the Johnston County DA.” The sign went on to direct people to business centers still open in Fuquay-Varina and Raleigh.

While the N.C. Supreme Court upheld a state ban against sweepstakes, the legality of the electronic gaming businesses has remained in question for years.

Software companies claim to have tweaked the games used in parlors across North Carolina to bring them into compliance with state law. In addition, police and sheriffs who have charged owners have drawn different rulings from local courts.

Doyle said the letter she served to sweepstakes owners is similar to one handed out by the district attorney’s office in Pitt County. She said several other counties are issuing similar notices.

Doyle gave businesses until Nov. 1 to close.

Clayton Police Chief R.W. Bridges said all of the sweepstakes parlors in the town’s limits were closed a couple of days after the deadline. He gave kudos to Doyle, noting that she was careful and didn’t rush into enforcement.

“Once we got some good case law on this, we moved on it,” Bridges said. “I know it made me feel more comfortable.”

In 2012, the state Supreme Court upheld the General Assembly’s 2010 ban on sweepstakes. When asked about the length of time between that ruling and her letter, Doyle pointed to large, ongoing investigations by the federal government.

“We were working in conjunction with the federal authorities,” she said in September.

In May, N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement agents seized gaming machines and confiscated money from at least two Internet sweepstakes parlors in Johnston County. A federal judge sealed records relating to the case.

Smithfield Police Chief Michael Scott said all five businesses in town had closed. However, he said his officers are monitoring one business that still has gaming machines inside the store.

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