The back and forth between law enforcement and sweepstakes establishment owners may finally be put to rest.
After North Carolina Superior Court Judge Robert Johnson ruled against International Internet Technologies LLC, a software distributor of sweepstakes machines on Feb. 4, police were given the go ahead to enforce North Carolina's ban on sweepstakes video games.
Following the court’s decision, and after consulting with N.C. District Attorney Michael Bonfoey, Macon County Sheriff Robbie Holland directed his staff to hand issue a letter to local sweepstakes establishment owners last week informing them that law enforcement now has full power to enforce the ban on sweepstakes games.
The letter cites the most recent ruling in Davidson County that allowed certain types of gaming machines to operate has been rescinded and, “There is no legal barrier that prohibits law enforcement from criminally charging individuals for violations of the video sweepstakes ban ... I am providing you this letter to ensure there is no misunderstanding regarding the position of the Macon County Sheriff's Office with respect to those statutes.” Holland's letter continues by encouraging business owners who believe their establishments are legal, to consult legal counsel. “Also, if you have hypothetical questions regarding software changes or other modifications to your machines that may bring what was previously illegal into legal compliance, then that is also an issue for you to discuss with your own independent legal counsel,” stated Holland.
North Carolina's Supreme Court deemed the sweepstakes parlors illegal in December and ordered a Jan. 3 shutdown. Members of the sweepstakes industry requested that the state's Supreme Court delay the Jan. 3 closing date to allow time to appeal to the United States Supreme Court, a request which was shortly dismissed.
In the past, when laws have identified the establishments as illegal, software companies have tweaked their software to stay one step ahead of the law, but according to Bonfoey, the Supreme Court's latest ruling was designed to prevent even new software from finding loopholes to allow them to operate.
Holland warned business owners in his letter, that if they continue to operate, charges would be filed against them. “I have instructed my deputies to investigate complaints and reports of violations and enforce the law,” said Holland. “The Macon County Sheriff's Office has jurisdiction to investigate violations of state law throughout Macon County. We are a complaint-driven agency and will investigate future complaints or reports regarding illegal gambling operations.”
County Commission Chair Kevin Corbin noted that while he understands the business and economic aspect of the establishments, it is vital for the state law to be upheld. “I have said before that I do understand people having businesses, earning a living, paying rent, etc,” explained Corbin. “In addition, I have heard people on the other side of the issue arguing they should be closed. However, this is and has not been a local issue for us or Sheriff Holland. Counties have had no jurisdiction at any point of the debate and discussion. We really have not even had a seat at the table except we did push for there to be some definitive answers as to the legality of the sweepstakes machines so we would know how to answer questions from citizens.”
It is the county's lack of control and regulation on the sweepstakes business that ultimately led to Corbin and other law makers across the state opposing their opposition. “We (like everyone else) have been anxious for some resolution of this issue,” said Corbin. “I know it has been frustrating to the sheriff as well not to know what to tell the public or the business owners. If I understand the court ruling, the intent of the court is for these businesses not to reopen. We will support the sheriff in enforcing the law as it has been defined. He, as well as the commissioners, take an oath when we are sworn in that says we will uphold the laws of the U.S. and North Carolina. This is what the sheriff will do and that is what we will do in supporting his work.”
After issuing the letter early last week, the sweepstakes establishments throughout the county are now closed. Holland stated on Tuesday that since the letter was delivered, all business owners have been in compliance with his request and he has not had to take further action.