Cities haven’t produced data to suggest issues
HENDERSONVILLE — They may be in legal limbo, but video “sweepstakes” machines are mushrooming in the mountains — and creating headaches for localities that want to limit their spread.
For more than a decade, the state legislature has tried to ban video gambling machines and even passed a bill in 2007 that outlawed them. After the 2007 action, the games re-emerged as video “sweepstakes” machines, which give players who buy Internet or phone time a chance to garner potential cash and prizes via mouse clicks on a computer screen.
Critics contend the games are a scourge, draining hard-earned money primarily from lower-income people who cannot afford the losses, charges the gaming industry disputes. The games resemble poker, slot machines and numbers games such as keno, although local workers refer to them as “card games,” “spin games” and “numbers.”
The legislature banned electronic sweepstakes games in 2010, but the state Court of Appeals struck down that ban in March. Now that ruling has been appealed to the N.C. Supreme Court, which is supposed to hear the case in September.
During this time, the sweepstakes games and parlors have proliferated in Western North Carolina, steadily popping up in mountain towns and counties. Sometimes, they’ve popped up to the discomfort of town leaders and elected officials, who’ve moved to limit them.
In Hendersonville, several sweepstakes parlors set up shop on Spartanburg Highway within a mile of each other.
“Then one located near downtown on Church Street, which is just off Main Street, and that really got council’s attention,” said Hendersonville City Manager Bo Ferguson. “They really wanted to limit them from locating on Main Street, in the heart of downtown.”
About six months ago, council agreed to amend the town’s zoning rules to allow sweepstakes parlors only in areas zoned “industrial.” Hendersonville has 20 businesses licensed for the sweepstakes games.
“There are significant areas of the city that they would be allowed in, but they’re not on main thoroughfares,” Ferguson said. “I would guess the industry would prefer the thoroughfares because they want the visibility.”