Closings of Henderson Internet cafes possible Thursday

Jan. 01, 2013 @ 04:56 PM

Video sweepstakes cafés in the Tri-County area appear headed for a closing on Thursday, the day state fines take effect against them.

The state Supreme Court recently ruled to uphold a state ban on video sweepstakes, impacting up to 6,000 jobs as about 600 cafés close.

In Henderson, closure impacts five sweepstakes operations. The largest is the Henderson Business Center on West Andrews Avenue, with 10 employees impacted.

Minnie Carroll, the manager at Henderson Business, said that they would be closing at least temporarily because the fines are simply too much of a threat.

“Anybody would be stupid to be open on the third,” Carroll said. “They can fine you $10,000 per machine. I don’t believe anyone will be open. I don’t know anyone that brave.”

Employees who responded to questions by The Dispatch expressed concern, but also hope that something else might work out. Customers have been inquiring about what might happen.

“I’ve had a couple call today asking about it,” said Vanessa Long of Brother’s Café on Dabney Drive. “I’ve only been working here since November, and I have a second job, but I would feel bad for everyone else here.”

The ruling is an endorsement of the state legislature’s third attempt to outlaw what legislators characterized as a form of gambling. They took aim at video poker in 2006, and then drove to put an end to the sweepstakes games that descended from the earlier poker games.

An ongoing question remains as to how the rules will be enforced.

Henderson Police Department Lt. Alan Hedgepeth said the state division on alcohol enforcement would have the task of implementing the law and consequences. Alcohol Law Enforcement is a division of the state’s public safety department.

Patty McQuillan, a public information officer with the N.C. Public Safety Office in Raleigh, said enforcement awaits specific instruction from the state attorney general’s office.

“The department of public safety will be waiting to see if additional appeals are filed,” McQuillan said. “As the situation evolves the department will follow the advice of the attorney general’s office with respect to enforcement.”

Internet video sweepstakes games were altered about two years ago. Loopholes were left from earlier legislative acts against video poker.

Café owners have argued the sweepstakes are equivalent to what large retailers and restaurant chains run as contests to win prizes that include cash, a case in point being the McDonald’s Monopoly sweepstakes game.

According to prior comments by Brother’s Café owner Wallace Mangum, making a purchase was not necessary to play.

“They don’t have to make a purchase to play,” Mangum said. “They can get sweepstakes points each day. Every person is allowed a certain number of points each day without making a purchase.”

The primary means of cash flow for the cafés is customers paying for additional points and use of the specially equipped Internet sweepstakes computers.

Mangum estimated that to ban the sweepstakes outright, the state would have to put the same stop to the McDonald’s Monopoly games.

According to Henderson Finance Director Kathy Brafford, the cafés paid $228,000 into the city’s general budget for the 2012 fiscal year. Each paid an electronic gaming operations annual fee of $2,000 plus a $1,000 fee for each terminal that runs for a day or more of the fiscal year.

The Henderson Business Center paid $80,000, Brothers Internet Café paid $44,000, the Internet Café paid $37,000, Good Luck $35,000 and Diamond Enterprise Sweepstakes $32,000.

The attorney general’s office has not confirmed a date for enforcement. The N.C. Sheriffs Association has indicated it has the go-ahead for enforcement starting Thursday.

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