NORTH CAROLINA – Despite a misconception of a statewide ban on video sweepstakes machines, the video gambling industry introduced new games that do not violate the law to get the machines back into Western North Carolina, apparently emboldened after the 3rd straight district court judge have dismissed a series of criminal charges against sweepstakes operators.
It’s been less than a year since the N.C. Supreme Court shut down the sweepstakes-style machines, declaring them illegal under the state’s standing ban on electronic gambling machines that use ‘entertainment displays’ to enter a sweepstakes or show results of entries.
Some businesses decided not to shut down their operations however, so police brought criminal charges against more than half a dozen establishments in the region, including some in Maggie Valley, Waynesville, Canton, Sylva and Franklin.
Some of those charges have been tossed out as they have come before local district court judges, however. Namely, cases in Waynesville, Sylva and Franklin heard by Judges Donna Forga and Monica Leslie have either been dismissed or ruled not guilty.
The latest to be fond not-guilty was Angela Davis Nicholson, a 43-year-old employee at Winner’s Circle on South Main Street in Waynesville. Nicholson, as with others who were found not-guilty, contended that the newest version of sweepstakes games require skill and dexterity, and yet also offer a pre-reveal option and therefore the state’s ban on “games of chance” doesn’t apply.
“The whole issue of these cases revolves around whether they have a skill or dexterity component,” said George Hyler, the Asheville attorney who represented Nicholson.
Prosecutors were unable to definitively prove otherwise.
“The judge thought that the evidence was insufficient to go on. She dismissed the case,” said District Attorney Mike Bonfoey.
Hyler made the same successful argument to get sweepstakes operators off in Franklin and Sylva, with the sweepstakes manufacturers bankrolling his attorney fees.
Now, the ongoing battle between state legislators and the video gambling industry appears headed for another chapter.
However, unless there’s an official decree from the state or a higher court deeming the games legal, the Waynesville police department will continue to cite violators even if it cost tax payers money on unsuccessful court cases.
“I really think we are going to push back,” said Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown. “We have taken the position that these are not legal.”
Brown, along with leaders from other towns, were surprised to hear that the sweepstakes machines were creeping back into the area, however.
Canton Town Manager Al Matthews broke the news during a quarterly Council of Governments meeting Monday night, sharing a couple of recent sighting of the new-style pre-reveal sweepstakes machines being rolled into gas stations.
“They are trying to run what they argue is a legitimate game,” Hyler said. “So far, they have been proven right on three different occasions.” The legal skill game seems to be gaining in popularity.
Hyler added that Winner’s Circle owner Tami Nicholson placed stickers on her machines to denote that players must use skill or dexterity to win.