On Monday, an attempt by the Ashe County Board of Commissioners to regulate “sweepstakes gaming machines,” failed when a lone commissioner voted in opposition to a newly proposed ordinance.
The vote on the proposed ordinance would have created a permitting process for anyone wishing to operate electronic gaming machines in Ashe County, and would have provided commissioners with the necessary legal tools to impose a nine month moratorium on new machines.
Citing the Constitution of the United States, Ashe County Commissioner Gerald Price said he was not comfortable voting on a county ordinance when the NC Supreme Court had yet to rule on sweepstakes gaming machines.
“For me personally, looking through the articles and amendments of the Constitution…I don’t feel comfortable voting in favor. I will be in opposition to it.”
Price’s opposition vote halts the ordinance on gaming machines until the next scheduled commissioners meeting on July 16 and pushes a moratorium further into the future.
The proposed ordinance would have required anyone that wanted to install new gaming machines to submit a request to the Ashe County planning board and obtain a permit after they proved the machines met certain “setbacks,” that would have prohibited the machines to be within 1,000 feet of playgrounds, churches, schools, and other gaming machines.
In March, the NC 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a 2010 state law banning electronic “sweepstakes gaming machines,” was unconstitutional. NC Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office has appealed that 2-1 decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court but, in the meantime, the machines can continue to be operated by private business owners.
North Carolina has prohibited “public gaming” for more than two centuries, and specifically banned slot machines in 1937, and video poker machines in 2000.
Since 2006, however, a number of companies have created and distributed electronic “sweepstakes” machines designed to operate within the confines of state law and, “gamble through pretextual sweepstakes relationships with Internet service, telephone cards, and office supplies, among other products,” according to NC HB 80 which was ratified and signed into law by Governor Beverly Perdue in July 2010.
Isn’t that gambling?
SweepsCoach, a California-based company that provides start-up services for Internet sweepstakes cafes, answers the gambling question on its website www.sweepstakesmachines.com
“In order for an activity to legally be considered ‘gambling,’ it needs to have three elements: prize, chance, and consideration,” reads the website. “The prize is, of course, something that you win. Sweepstakes have that. The chance means that there is a random element involved. This, too, is a part of any sweepstakes game. Consideration means that the participant pays directly to enter into the game.”
The catch, according to SweepsCoach, is that sweepstakes gaming customers don’t actually purchase entries into the sweepstakes.
“They purchase time on the computer (Internet time) or, in some cases, long-distance phone time,” reads the website. “When they purchase this ‘product’ they are given free entries into the sweepstakes. Instead of placing game pieces on a Monopoly board, they go to the gaming systems that reveal whether or not they have won.”