On the morning of Tuesday, April 23, Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson and his staff held a press conference at the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office headquarters, at which the county’s law enforcement agency announced a new position on internet sweepstakes and gaming.
After consulting with the Alamance County District Attorney’s Office, the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office, Mebane Police Department, and Haw River Police Department will be enforcing violations of gaming, internet sweepstakes, and fish games laws on or after May 6, 2019. These laws include North Carolina General Statutes 14-306.1A and 14-306.4.
The three agencies mentioned above, according to Alamance County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Byron Tucker, hand-delivered letters on Monday, April 22, addressed to various local businesses that are believed to be in violation of the internet sweepstakes and gaming statutes.
“The letter serves as an advisory to inform these owner/operators that on and after May 6, law enforcement in Alamance County will begin enforcing violations of illegal gaming operations in our area,” Tucker said. “We are seeking compliance over enforcement.”
N.C.G.S. 14-306.4 prohibits the operation of electronic machines and devices for purpose of conducting internet sweepstakes. Any person who violates this section is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor for the first offense, is guilty of a Class H felony for the second offense, and is guilty of a Class G felony for a third or subsequent offense.
N.C.G.S 14-306.1A prohibits the operation of slot machines as defined in N.C.G.S. 14-306.4. This statute defines a slot machine (including fish games and other like devices) as any machine which, for payment of money is operated in such a way that the operator receives a cash payout of any kind, irrespective of whether the games requires skill or dexterity. Any person who violates this section is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor for the first offense, is guilty of a Class H felony on the second offense, and is guilty of a Class G felony for a third or subsequent offense. Furthermore, pursuant to N.C.G.S. 14-309, any person violating the provision of N.C.G.S. 14-306.1A involving the operation of five or more machines prohibited by this section is guilty of a Class G felony.
The goal on behalf of law enforcement in providing advance notice of law enforcement action on or after May 6 is to allow owners/operators a reasonable amount of time to comply with the law as it is currently being interpreted. If owners/operators have questions concerning what may constitute a violation of the North Carolina General Statutes, they are advised by the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office and other local law enforcement authorities to consult their own personal attorney.
“We would much rather see compliance other than having to go in and make criminal charges,” Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson said at the press conference.
According to the local authorities, eight establishments in Alamance County are currently believed to be in violation. Three are in Alamance County proper, three are in Haw River, and two are in Mebane. Assistant Police Chief Allen Byrd was one of three officers representing the Mebane Police Department at the press conference.
“We in Haw River, we have three establishments that are operating at this time,” Haw River Police Chief Toby Harrison said. “I just wanted to thank our partners, because we couldn’t have done this without their assistance. It just shows the collaborative effort here in Alamance County – what we can do when we have everyone pitching in and helping out for the betterment and safety of our respective agencies.”
The agency, wherever the non-compliance is located, will be responsible for the investigation, with the assistance of the state’s Alcohol Legalization Enforcement (ALE), who has jurisdiction and special training to conduct investigations of illegal gaming operations across North Carolina.
“What you see here is a combined effort of law enforcement in Alamance County, trying to deal with some of the most questionable circumstances that we’ve faced with the gaming industry. These operations are believed to be illegal. And anytime you pay money for anything, it’s all an illegal operation,” Sheriff Johnson said. “We have eight places that we have been able to identify here in Alamance County. Letters were given to each of these places (Monday) by 12:00 noon, advising them that if they did not close up, we would be seeking criminal action against them at a later date.”
“Why has it taken so long? I want to address that issue,” Johnson continued.
“To be able to go into these places in an undercover capacity, you have got to be trained what to look for. The only people today that are trained that we know of are our Alcohol Legalization and Enforcement. And they only have six people to cover 100 counties (in North Carolina). I’d like to say to our legislators, let’s give them some more money, and we can move a whole lot quicker. This problem is statewide – not just Alamance County.”
Johnson explained that his officers are attempting not only to deter illegal gaming activities, but also other criminal activity that often takes place at these types of establishments.
“We are very concerned not just on the gaming part, but also the other crimes,” Johnson said. “These places are magnets for criminal activity. And we have experienced some of that here in Alamance County. Burlington had a murder several months ago. There are a lot of crimes being committed at these locations, and we will not tolerate that here in Alamance County.”
According to Alamance County Assistant District Attorney Alex Bass, the District Attorney’s Office comes in once an investigation is completed. Once a case is investigated, and the facts are brought forward, the District Attorney’s Office evaluates the situation and determines the best course of action.
“Because electronic games are so easily re-programmable and so easily changeable, we can’t make any judgment calls until we have that evidence,” Bass explained. “What we do is we wait, and when the evidence comes in, we’ll take a look at it, determine what appropriate charges are to be laid, and then prosecute the case.”
The local towns of Burlington and Gibsonville have already enacted ordinances of their own that have effectively banned internet gaming and sweepstakes operations in those municipalities.
“I’ve often heard a lot of people say these are victimless crimes. Why are we really concerned about them? Quite frankly, they’re not,” Gibsonville Police Chief Ron Parrish said. “We had a number of locations within the town of Gibsonville, and we enlisted the assistance of ALE. ALE is the only agency throughout the state of North Carolina with the expertise to conduct these types of investigations. They’re very time consuming, and they only have six special agents throughout the entire state of North Carolina investigating these activity. They need more assistance, so they can assist local officers.”
“I’m retired from ALE, so I have worked gambling quite a bit over the years,” Parrish added. “And I’ve had a lot of phone calls, a lot of complaints, from husbands and wives, who would complain about not having any money to pay their rent, make their car payments, or to buy groceries, because that one particular spouse wound up at one of these locations. And they’re thinking they’re going to get that windfall. And guess what? They end up losing every dime they have. It is an issue. And I’m proud to be able to stand up here with everyone else in this group to take a look at this issue, and to deal with it.”