WJTV News Channel 12 - Sweepstakes: Legal or illegal?

Sweepstakes: Legal or illegal?

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Sweepstakes cafes---those small gambling houses drawing in hundreds to play Vegas-style games---law enforcement’s busted many in the East, yet others are still open. The Pitt County District Attorney says there's no reason to shut them down. 

But a 9 On Your Side investigation found that's not the case.

"It’s a crime. It is illegal. It’s affected my family in a real way." This man--wishing to remain anonymous has been greatly affected by illegal gambling. 

"Gambling addiction is just like a drug addiction. Once you run out of money you resort to other ways to find money to gamble. They steal, they break into places, and they do what they can to find the money to support their habits."

In January, a collaborative effort among law enforcement shut down more than two dozen sweepstakes parlors in Pitt County, however others remain open. 

Pitt County's District Attorney Kimberly Robb's says parlors using the pre-reveal software are legal and her office isn't taking those cases to court.
The state's Attorney General tells another story. "We have a clear North Carolina Supreme Court decision that makes video poker illegal--in any form."  Roy Cooper says he and his office fought in court for many years to give authorities the right to enforce the law against video gambling.   

Eventually the state prevailed at the North Carolina Supreme Court and won a strong decision upholding the law. District attorneys are now taking more cases to court.

"The video sweepstakes are enforceable in North Carolina. In district 4, Ernie Lee is going after all parlors violating the law.

Last October Lee took a case to court---and lost. However, he says the legality of the machines didn’t affect the verdict; rather the judge felt there wasn't enough evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt.

"Gambling is illegal in the state of North Carolina and my understanding of the video sweepstakes law as interpreted by the North Carolina Supreme Court is that they are illegal." Lee said. 
"Other counties and cities close by or adjacent to us have shut them down. What are their D.A’s doing that ours is not?" The anonymous citizen asked.

We took that question directly to Robb. She declined our interview because of pending cases but said she would need clear legal authority from an appellate court to take down parlors that are open.
"If the Attorney general is going to support the law and he says it's illegal, why wait on the appellate court?” The anonymous citizen said. “I think politics has a lot to do with it. It doesn't seem to be a priority because we've had this problem for a while, kind of just not wanting to tackle it, but I know people in law enforcement who do want to shut them down, but they feel like they don't have the support of the DA."

Robb refutes the concerns of our anonymous citizen in a statement:

“Enforcing the sweepstakes law is a priority as are all criminal violations that occur in Pitt County.  Our office has Assistant District Attorneys specifically assigned to handle sweepstakes cases in addition to their regular assignments.  Also, our office has been working closely with both state and local law enforcement in efforts to effectively prosecute these matters. In spite of the constantly changing Appellate Court decisions, the Pitt County District Attorney’s Office is closely monitoring the current laws regulating sweepstakes.” 

The Greenville City Council is looking into increasing taxes on current sweepstake parlors, Robb says are legal. 

9 On Your Side asked the Greenville Police Department to comment on the discrepancy; they provided us with this statement.

“The Greenville Police Department works closely with the Pitt County District Attorney’s Office to regularly monitor and enforce the current laws regulating sweepstakes. The department has developed a system for inspections and enforcement by our Special Investigations unit. We support Pitt County District Attorney Kim Robb’s interpretation of the law. The old software has been clearly declared illegal by the appellate courts. Our officers continue to receive education and training about sweepstakes so that all of our officers can remain up to date on court decisions, as well as the different equipment and software they may encounter during investigations. Criminal investigations, no matter how big or small, remain a top priority for our agency.” 
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