DA advises law enforcement on sweepstakes cafes

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY — At a recent meeting of local enforcement, the district attorney discussed how to face internet sweepstakes cafes in the county.

Interim District Attorney Tom Keith directed local law enforcement to let municipalities pursue civil action against these gambling establishments through their attorneys.

“What we recommended law enforcement to be effective would be to get the county attorneys, city attorneys to bring civil lawsuits for nuisances, abatement, injunctive relief to get the actors just to permanently be enjoined, stopped from participating in any way in the future, and that’s the best way to handle these type of cases,” Keith said.

The DA gave this recommendation at a Nov. 9 meeting. According to Reidsville Police Chief Robert Hassell, RPD attended the meeting along with the State Bureau of Investigation, Alcohol Law Enforcement, the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office and law enforcement agencies from around the county.

That conversation, however, is not yet over.

“We’re still talking with our district attorney’s office on how we’re going to approach this,” Hassell said.

These agencies plan to continue the conversation at another meeting on Jan. 1, according to Hassell.

The North Carolina courts and law enforcement have wrestled with the legality of these internet gambling businesses for years.

“The trouble with internet sweepstakes is as soon as the Supreme Court rules, they change the game slightly and start over, and I’m sure that’s what they’ll do,” Keith said. “You’re stuck with a continuous charging, convicting, appealing and then changing the game, and then you start it all over again. You’re on a gerbil wheel.”

He added, “We can’t get ahead the way we’re going now. Legislature needs to change some things. Hopefully they will.”

In Reidsville, the police department held back from pursuing sweepstakes businesses until it could achieve clarity on the best course of action.

“We had somewhat fell back on the sweepstake because there was a court case that was still in the courts and we wanted to let that get handled within the court system,” said Hassell.

Still, for Keith, fighting sweepstakes operations is a low priority.

“Legislature keeps dumping areas onto us with no extra resources,” Keith said. “I asked them, ‘Okay if you want me to go full bore on internet sweepstakes, how many murder cases do you want me not to try? How many rape cases do you want me not to investigate? How many breaking and entering cases do you me to dismiss so I can go after internet sweepstakes?’ Guess what? There were 15 people in a room and no one opened their mouth.”

The DA added that he may give these cases more attention further down the road.

“Maybe in six months, in the future, when we’re all caught up and we’ve got some of these murder cases out, some of the backlog of sex offense cases we’ve got, we can take a look at it and see what the state of the law is, but right now, I’ve got some huge problems a lot more serious in this community than internet gambling,” Keith said.

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Cumberland deputies raid four video gaming locations

Cumberland County sheriff’s deputies raided a taxi company Wednesday in the 700 block of North Reilly Road, seizing seven video gambling machines from the business, sheriff’s spokesman Sean Swain said.

Almost simultaneously, deputies raided another storefront owned by the company, Pick Up and Ride, in the 500 block of South Reilly Road. Swain said the company had been about to open an illegal video gambling parlor there.

He said the businesses are operated by Won Nam Hong, 55, of the 700 block of Decatur Drive in Fayetteville. Hong was charged with gambling and conspiracy, Swain said.

He said deputies armed with search warrants also raided Hong’s home and that of an accomplice in Spring Lake looking for financial documents and other materials tied to illegal gambling. He did not yet know how many gaming machines were seized in total.

Swain said warrants had been issued for the accomplice, but he wouldn’t name him before his arrest.

Former Sheriff Moose Butler had long been a driving force against illegal video gambling in Cumberland County. In 2006, Butler’s voice helped the General Assembly pass a state law that made video gambling illegal. A judge overturned the law in 2009, and the state fought back with another law the following year.

Business owners challenged the law, leading to a proliferation of sweepstakes cafes in the county and across the state until the state Supreme Court banned them in 2013. Shortly afterward, Butler shut down the cafes, and deputies seized hundreds of machines in the process.

Since then, raids of video gambling operations in the county have been sparse.

Swain said Sheriff Ennis Wright intends to follow Butler’s path, shutting down gaming parlors whenever they are uncovered. Swain said the latest raids stemmed from an anonymous tip.

“The sheriff is going to enforce the gambling laws in North Carolina,” Swain said. “If you don’t enforce this, it creates other types of crime.”

Video gaming can be a lucrative illegal business, with some machines netting $1,000 a day, Swain said. With that kind of money being generated, he said, gaming operations become a prime target for armed robbers.

Swain also noted that the illegal proceeds are not taxed.

“It’s not fair to citizens that these people are gaming the system,” he said.

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