Local law enforcement agencies are taking a look at the Internet sweepstakes industry’s new software programming, to see what they’ll be up against when – or if – they start enforcing the ban on machines with “entertaining displays.”
On Monday, Burlington Police Chief Mike Williams gave city councilmen and staff a rundown on his
PreReveal Sweepstakes Games
interpretation of the six-year cat-and-mouse game between the video gambling industry and state legislature. The most recent episode came late last year, when the state Supreme Court upheld the state’s electronic sweepstakes ban on the machines.
In 2006, the legislature banned video poker machines, and the industry responded by substituting direct betting with a sweepstakes format, removing the “chance” or “bet” element, Williams said.
Over the years, the industry has tweaked the gaming machines in response to updated and amended statutes, and it’s happening again, this time hinging on the way a player is notified of his or her winnings.
In Oct. 2010, the General Assembly enacted NCGS 14-306.4, which made it illegal to “conduct a sweepstakes through the use of an entertaining display,” and defined “entertaining display” as “visual information, capable of being seen by a sweepstakes entrant, that takes the form of actual game play, or simulated game play.”
“A lot of debate now hinges on the definition of that “entertaining display,’” said Williams.
He said, from what he understands, a sweepstakes entrant currently plays by paying for Internet time, and is automatically entered in a sweepstakes. The revealing of any won prizes is displayed on the entrant’s screen within the game.
“The industry is again revising what it’s doing,” Williams said, explaining many Internet sweepstakes businesses in Burlington have temporarily shut their doors while they’re converting to “non-entertaining reveal systems.”
Williams and Assistant Chief Chris Verdeck with Burlington police, and ALE’s Rodney Beckom, special agent in charge, met with one such business owner Tuesday to check out the new systems.
“It works the same way as it did before,” except there’s “just a blank screen that reveals the prize,” and it’s “not in an entertaining fashion,” Verdeck said Tuesday, after seeing the new system firsthand.
The question now, Williams said, is whether the “non-entertaining reveal systems” will comply with the statute that’s been recently upheld by the N.C. Supreme Court.
He said, “What’s interesting is that in its ruling, the (N.C.) Supreme Court … remanded the case back to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings consistent with this ruling,” leaving a lot of people wondering what those “further proceedings” are.
That’s why, as of now, Alamance County District Attorney Pat Nadolski is waiting for more certainty on the subject before he’s willing to prosecute, and local law enforcement waits in limbo.
In the meantime, Williams and Verdeck plan to take part in the University of North Carolina’s School of Government’s webinar on the Internet sweepstakes statute Wednesday, to learn more about legal challenges and the approaches other jurisdictions are taking.
On Thursday, Senter plans to meet with Kieran J. Shanahan, secretary of the N.C. Department of Public Safety, for guidance on enforcement, said Williams. Then Williams and other heads of local law enforcement will meet with Nadolski on Jan. 24 to further discuss enforcement options.
Williams said when the time comes to enforce the statute, his personal preference will be to work alongside ALE, so any equipment seizures would be done at the state level.
“We need to be consistent across the state,” he said.
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