Internet Café crackdown

Published 10:16 am Monday, January 18, 2016

WINDSOR – The deadline is nearing for sweepstakes cafes in Bertie County to close or face prosecution.

Bertie County Sheriff John Holley says his office has served cease-and-desist letters to six such businesses in his county on Jan. 8, giving these businesses 30 days to shut their doors.

The internet cafes served were: Black Rock Internet, off US-17 North near the Chowan River bridge; the Hideaway Palace #2 (old Disco-17) located on US-17 between Merry Hill and Windsor; Windsor Internet, occupying an office space in the 17 Bypass Shopping Center on the US-13/US-17 bypass in that town; the Internet Café on Granville Street in Windsor; the One-Zero-One Business Center located at the old radio station on US-17 South of Windsor; and, Lewiston Internet on S. Main Street in Lewiston.

“If they are not closed in 30 days the District Attorney will charge them with either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the offense,” Holley said.

Holley added that such action is being taken in many surrounding counties.

Several other counties have long banned the businesses, saying they violate state gambling laws.

Lawmakers first banned video poker and other electronic gambling in the state in 2006, but operators have adapted their games and fought in the court system to stay open.

The General Assembly then tried to reinforce these restrictions four years later when state lawmakers put a law on the books originally banning Internet-based sweepstakes games within North Carolina in 2010 after years of seeking to outlaw electronic gambling.

The state Supreme Court went on to uphold the law in 2012.

Then in mid-2015 the North Carolina Supreme Court declined to take up appeals in two electronic gaming cases, letting the convictions stand in a decision that authorities say reinforces their ability to shut down illegal gambling operations.

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper said back in May that the state Supreme Court originally denied petitions from the owner and manager of an Internet cafe in Tarboro five years ago. The N.C. Court of Appeals in November upheld their convictions in 2013, the first case to test a statewide sweepstakes ban.

The Supreme Court decision, the Attorney General said, means the ban should be easier to enforce.

Cooper said the high court’s order affirms investigators’ authority to “go after illegal gambling operations in their communities.”

Despite this, and until the legal process is exhausted, some jurisdictions have allowed sweepstakes cafes to continue operating even though the state legislature outlawed them and the state Supreme Court upheld it.

Sweepstakes operators say they’ve changed software to comply with the law.