Sweepstakes games continue until Jan. 2
by Anna Oakes
“I want to stay open as long as I can,” said Earl Musselwhite, but “I’m not going to wait until (the sheriff) gets here on the third.”
The North Carolina Supreme Court on Dec. 14 ruled that a 2010 legislative ban on video sweepstakes games is not a violation of constitutional free speech rights, upholding the statewide prohibition of the games. The ruling reversed a March decision by the N.C. Court of Appeals that found the law authorizing the ban overbroad and unconstitutional.
Sheriffs across the state, including Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman, said they can begin enforcing the law on Jan. 3.
“Pursuant to the N.C. Supreme Court’s decision and in concert with District Attorney (Jerry) Wilson, we will be visiting the three known “sweepstakes centers” in Watauga” in Foscoe, on N.C. 105 and on the N.C. 105 Bypass, Hagaman said in a Dec. 19 email to media and government officials. “If you are aware of more centers, please let me know.”
At video sweepstakes cafés, customers typically purchase Internet service or phone time and receive one or more sweepstakes entries for a chance to win prizes.
Often, according to information from the UNC School of Government, “the only way the result is revealed is by connecting to a computer terminal loaded with the sweepstakes software. Once connected, a player can choose either an ‘instant reveal’ (results are immediately displayed on the screen) or the results can be revealed through video games played on the terminal.”
Musselwhite, his wife and his son own and operate Gold Rush Internet Sweepstakes, with locations in Foscoe and in Boone on the N.C. 105 Bypass. The Foscoe location has been open for about a year, while the N.C. 105 Bypass location opened in April.
Each establishment has about 20 terminals, and most of his customers are older and retired, with some regulars who come every day or every other day.
“I usually have a full house,” he said.
“I’m kind of heated up about it,” said Musselwhite. “I’m kind of disappointed that they don’t have enough ability to look down their nose and see what kind of opportunity they have when it comes to sweepstakes.”
He said video sweepstakes are no different than sweepstakes games offered at fast food chains and other businesses — or the state education lottery.
“They can be used for a purpose for people to be hired and have a job,” he said. “Let us pay some tax and stay in business and be legitimate. Don’t run us out of business.”
Musselwhite said he has no employees other than he and his family members.
“I knew it was going to happen anyway. I’m not going to lose any sleep over it,” he said. “I’m not sorry. I’ve made some people happy and I’ve been happy, but life goes on.”
The business owner said he’ll wait to see if the industry works anything out with state leaders to remain in business, but until then he’s not going to ruffle any feathers.
The owner of the 105 Business Center in Boone, which also operates video sweepstakes games, could not be reached as of presstime.