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.