Senators To Ban Video Gambling
Special Report - June 17, 2010
The North Carolina Senate is moving toward passage of legislation to clarify that the state’s ban on video poker applies to a new and spreading breed of gambling known as “sweepstakes.” HB 80Ban Electronic Sweepstakes, sponsored by Sen. Josh Stein (DWake), passed the Senate Judiciary I Committee overwhelmingly with the support of the Sheriffs’ Association, the North Carolina Family Policy Council, the Christian Action League, and the League of Municipalities. HB 80 is scheduled for consideration by the full Senate on the evening of Monday, June 21.
HB 80 prohibits electronic machines and devices to be used for sweepstakes activities in the state. It prohibits persons from owning, leasing, possessing, or operating “an electronic machine or device to conduct a sweepstakes or to engage in any process or activity associated with a sweepstakes” with exceptions for traditional retail sweepstakes like those done by Coke and McDonald’s. The bill goes on to include as part of its intent “to prohibit any electronic machine or device or other mechanism that seeks to avoid application through the use of any subterfuge or pretense whatsoever.” Additionally, HB 80 clarifies that the existing video gambling ban applies to machines that work as a result of inserting money, “any coin or token, or use of any credit card, debit card, or any other method that requires payment, or prepaid card to activate play.”
During the Judiciary Committee’s debate, Sen. Stein told members the bill was important because he is “convinced that what is going on today [in Internet sweepstakes parlors] is against the law,” and North Carolina must “make crystal clear that Internet sweepstakes casinos are contrary” to state policy. While HB 80 would outlaw the estimated 600 operations in the state that represent “gambling on a massive commercialized scale,” legitimate retail promotional sweepstakes would remain legal.
Testifying before the committee, Cumberland County’s sheriff of 16 years, Earl Butler, urged Senators to pass the bill because these sweepstakes activities are “big business” and it is “illegal gambling” that cannot be policed under current statute. North Carolina Family Policy Council (NCFPC) president Bill Brooks told members about the enormous harms and family destruction that comes from compulsive gambling as well as the fact that gambling preys on the poor.
Rep. Earl Jones (DGuilford), who has sponsored HB 1537Video Gaming Entertainment Act, came over from the House to say that, “This is not a law enforcement issue. This should be a revenue capturing issue.” In 2009, the State Employees Association of North Carolina and the Legislative Black Caucus both endorsed Rep. Jones’ bill to regulate and tax the industry as a new source of revenue for the state. The owner of a sweepstakes technology software development company told committee members that he has established sweepstakes activities in 88 retail locations in the last nine months. He pointed out that he is one of the smaller sweepstakes companies operating in North Carolina and that there were three other companies much larger than his.
Later, Senate Majority Leader Marc Basnight (DDare) held a press conference announcing support for the bill with other senators, members of law enforcement, NCFPC president Bill Brooks, and Christian Action League executive director Rev. Mark Creech. Sen. Martin Nesbitt (DBuncombe) used the occasion to argue that electronic sweepstakes are “like video poker on steroids” with “no redeeming quality.” Sen. Stein reiterated that the General Assembly “will not tolerate this type of exploitation in our state.” Brooks reinforced the NCFPC’s “longstanding opposition to gambling in its many forms” in North Carolina and thanked those members who will “vote to put the video poker genie back in the bottle.” He also noted that this is a nonpartisan issue with support from both Democrats and Republicans and that this would be the fourth time the Senate has passed such a ban.
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