LAURINBURG – the city council chamber served as a standing-room as it listened to more than 50 citizens air their concerns with internet cafes sprouting like mushrooms within the city limits.
Jason Watson, a resident and Ft. Bragg military police officer challenged the council by asking them as newcomers if they would be positively impressed with a bunch of internet sweepstakes cafes lined up along Main Street between U.S. 74 and the McDonald’s.
Watson called these storefront businesses as eyesores in the view of the public, not just to the people who live here, but to those who pass by and those who stop.
“I, as a police officer, know the type of people who enter these establishments. I know the type of behavior that is conducted inside. I know what drugs and addictions do to people because I see it every day,” the officer stated.
Meanwhile, Pastor Michael Edds of East Laurinburg Pentecostal Holiness Church presented statistics showing ties between gambling addiction, financial ruin and domestic discord.
“We have some serious problems out there and we’ve opened the floodgate for something that can compound what we’re trying to address,” expressed the pastor.
Edds cited these issues troubled him not only as a religious leader, but as a member of the city’s crime and drug committee as well.
“On this committee we’re trying to come up with proactive ways to reduce violence and crime in the city, but with this addiction that’s been thrown at us it’s making our job impossible,” Edds stated.
Based on the citizens concern, Laurinburg is turning to “a little Cherokee where no one will want to come and live.”
However, according to City attorney Bill Floyd who detailed the history of sweepstakes in the city, on a ruling released in December, the Superior Court alreadymade the determination that this particular software used in internet cafes is legal.
Since the statute is filled with loopholes and uncertainty, the city has not exercised the option to withhold licensing to these businesses.
Pastor Edds then, questioned the council if anyone of them own or rent space for internet shops.
The council did not answer except for council member Curtis Leak who replied with “Isn’t that statement personal?”
City Mayor Tommy Parker checked a list of sweepstakes owners and landlords presented by Edds and noted the absence of council members’ names. The list, however, does not include sweepstakes shops in the county.
“I’m going to appeal to you tonight to just be patient with the law enforcement task force and the city council. We hear you, we can’t act on this tonight, but I can say that it will be dealt with appropriately in a forthright, expedient manner,” Parker offered.