Local law enforcement agencies met on Wednesday in Rockingham with attorneys Christopher Clifton and Mike Grace to discuss and try to clarify the North Carolina Supreme Court ruling on sweepstakes businesses.
Those from the agencies were Richmond County Sheriff James Clemmons Jr., Chief Deputy Mark Gulledge, Rockingham Police Chief Billy Kelly, Sheriff Captain Jay Childers, Rockingham Police Lt. Creed Freeman, Rockingham Police Detective George Gillenwater, Hamlet Police Chief Amery Griffin, Hamlet Police Captain Scott Waters, Hamlet Detective Sergeant Eddie Smith, Hamlet Detective Lt. Gary Carter, Albemarle Police Chief Bill Halliburton and Albemarle Police Sergeant Donnie Whitley.
Clifton and Grace are from Grace, Tisdale and Clifton, P.A., and specialize in criminal defense and civil litigation. The attorneys represent International Internet Technologies, LLC, a software company based out of Oklahoma that designs sweepstakes software, said Clifton.
Clemmons said that he and Grace have been working together for about four years and he contacted Grace to better explain the actions sweepstakes business owners could take.
“Sweepstakes are nothing new,” Grace said.
Grace said the definition of gambling is to “place a wager or bet on a game of chance to get something in return.”
According to Grace, nothing in the recent North Carolina Supreme Court ruling on the statute that governs sweepstakes says that sweepstakes or Internet cafes are illegal. What is illegal is the use of fun and entertaining games to reveal the winnings, he said.
Sweepstakes halls, or Internet cafes, began cropping up since the state in 2007 outlawed video poker machines.
A traditional video poker machine is plugged directly into the wall, usually has a money slot and bases winnings off of random selection, said Grace. A true sweepstakes game is plugged into an Internet server and the winnings are already selected when the player sits down and begins to play, Clifton said.
Grace said that as long as the business is legitimate and there is a legitimate product being sold, the business is legal. If there is no product being sold, such as time on the Internet, then it is gambling, according to Grace. Sweepstakes machines are required to be able to go onto the Internet because Internet time is the product being sold, Clifton said.
The attorneys brought in sweepstakes software downloaded onto a computer to show what International Internet Technologies’ product looks like. The new sweepstakes machines have a reveal button that the user clicks on to show how much money is won. The user can then chose to look at a screen that resembles a slot machine which shows them what they have just won. On the sweepstakes software, there is a separation between the reveal of the winnings and the slot machine screen.
J & W Business Center on East Broad Avenue has the new pre-reveal sweepstakes machines. The manager, who did not want to be named, said that he is worried about his job and confused about the state Supreme Court’s ruling.
Katrina Christian, of Rockingham, said that the new pre-reveal machines haven’t stopped her from wanting to play. “This is only the second time I’ve played with the new machines,” she said Wednesday.
— Staff Writer Laura Edington can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.