LAURINBURG — Making the rounds of Scotland County on Tuesday, the effective date for enforcement of state statutes against video gambling as announced by a two-county task force in May, authorities said they found all but one sweepstakes parlor in compliance.
In the final weeks of June, according to Scotland County sheriff’s Investigator Earl Haywood, authorities performed several “courtesy walk-ins” to remind sweepstakes businesses and their customers of the looming deadline.
Would-be weekend customers of the Lucky Barn on South Main Street were greeted by locked doors and a sign proclaiming the establishment’s closure effective Friday, with other sweepstakes shutting their doors at various stages on Monday afternoon. With the exception of Carolina Cyber Center on Leisure Road, authorities say that all sweepstakes parlors locked their doors and offloaded their equipment prior to Tuesday.
“They were given ample time to cease and desist back in May and given ample time to actually remedy the situation as far as moving any and all machines that resemble video games from the property,” Haywood said of a warning issued by a task force composed of the sheriff’s offices in Scotland and Hoke counties and Laurinburg and Raeford police.
“The cooperation between the agencies has been fantastic,” said Laurinburg police Assistant Chief Cliff Sessoms, who added that officers confirmed the 20-plus known Internet sweepstakes centers within the city limits to be closed on Tuesday.
“It seems like everyone has been cooperative as far as the business owners,” Sessoms said. “We have been checking and no one is open and operating and machines have been removed from businesses that we have been able to check.”
According to Carolina Cyber Center owner Robert Outlaw, his Leisure Road establishment remained open until after midnight on Tuesday. But the business’s reopening on Tuesday morning was followed quickly by the arrival of sheriff’s investigators with a search warrant in hand signed by a superior court judge and applicable to the building as well as anything else on the property belonging to Outlaw.
No employees or customers were present in the building when law enforcement arrived. Outlaw said that Haywood asked him if he was open for business and he responded in the affirmative.
Ending around 4 p.m., the search lasted for more than four hours, during which time authorities removed computer and gaming equipment from the premises and conducted a search of Outlaw’s Chevrolet Suburban.
Outlaw was not officially arrested or detained on Tuesday, but he said his car keys were not returned until the conclusion of the search. According to Haywood, charges against Outlaw are pending investigation, but Outlaw was advised that an attempt to open again could result in additional charges.
“We appreciate everybody else’s cooperation who actually abided by the ruling,” said Haywood. “Here on out, we’re strictly going to be enforcing those statutes.”
Should he be charged, it would not be Outlaw’s first encounter facing an illegal gambling case. Late last year, a case against Outlaw was dismissed by Superior Court Judge Regina Joe. No reason was given, but Outlaw contends that the language of North Carolina’s anti-gambling statutes does not prohibit his software.
“I’m legal,” he said. “I’ve got rights and I’m going to fight for my rights. I don’t want to get in any trouble. I want to do what’s right and I feel like they’re wrong in what they’re doing.”
But the second widespread closure of Internet sweepstakes halls by Scotland County law enforcement in as many years, Outlaw said, is beginning to try his patience. The first came in early 2013, when the state Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the state’s law against gambling.
“It’s getting to be a waste of our taxpayers’ money,” Outlaw said. “There’s a lot of other things than gambling going wrong.”
Reach reporter Mary Katherine Murphy at 910-276-2311, ext. 17. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.