By: James HowellStaff Writerjhowell@civitasmedia.com
December 30, 2012
The N.C. Supreme Court upheld the statewide prohibition of “sweepstakes gaming machines” on Dec. 14, deciding that the 2010 legislative ban on the games was not a violation of free speech protected by the state’s constitution.
This ruling overturned the N.C. Court of Appeals March decision that said the ban was unconstitutional.
“Plaintiffs have attempted to ‘skillfully disguise’ conduct with a facade of speech to gain First Amendment protection for their conduct. We have stripped the transaction of all its thin and false apparel and consider it in its very nakedness and have found plaintiffs arguments unavailing,” read the N.C. Supreme Court’s decision.
“We conclude that N.C. (General Statutes) 14-306.4 regulates conduct, with only incidental burdens on associated speech, and is therefore constitutional,” read the decision.
This court battle began in July 2010, when the General Assembly passed House Bill 80, also called N.C. General Statue 14-306.4, which prohibited “sweepstakes gaming machines” utilizing an “entertaining display.”
Sweepstakes games are not exactly games of chance, offering some legal wiggle-room. When using a sweepstakes game, customers purchase Internet service or phone time and receive one or more sweepstakes entries for a chance to win prizes.
The customer isn’t paying to place a “bet,” but is paying for the privilege to access the machine.
Also, the sweepstakes gaming machines don’t actually “decide” anything, the result given to a customer is predetermined.
Proponents of these sweepstakes games liken the machines to the monopoly game played at McDonalds. When a customer receives a winning or losing monopoly piece, the result was predetermined, and the customer purchased items off of the menu, rather than the monopoly piece itself.
These factors cause many to feel not be considered gambling.
“The way these video gambling outfits work is that every time the legislature passes a law that shuts them down, they can quickly change the machines or software just a little bit to make it legal again,” said Williams in June.
Williams also said he’s unaware of any machines operating within the county, but said he did think one of the cafes is now operating near Miller’s Creek.
“We are watching to see if the industry appeals it further or makes other changes in the games. We will continue to work on an ordinance so that we can effectively regulate them if they become legal again,” said Ashe County Manager Dr. Pat Mitchell.
Mitchell also said Ashe County “cannot tax them (the sweepstakes gaming machines) like the towns can. Counties and towns have different laws (NC Statutes) that we have to follow and we have no way to tax them - unless the State were to give us that authority.”
“Even if the county would benefit from them (sweepstakes gaming machines), I still don’t think it would be a wise decision,” said Ashe County Commissioner Gary Roark. “I’d be 100 percent against having them. It’s gambling any way you look at it.”