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Arcade debate continues

AHOSKIE – Despite an allegation of a brief closure, a claim that caused one member to speak out publicly, Church at the Crossroads, located here at 203 East Main Street, has maintained its religious presence constantly for the past 17 years.

The response from a church member came after the owner of a gaming room establishment, located one block west of the church, is attempting to use a stipulation within a Town of Ahoskie ordinance to validate the legality of that business being within a certain number of feet from a house of worship.

While Betty Boyer, owner of the Red Room Arcade – located at 107 East Main Street and town officials remain at odds over whether or not her business is a gaming arcade or an internet café, she contends that the church was closed and without a pastor when she made an application to the town to initially open her business last year.

Boyer’s comments came at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Ahoskie Town Council on April 11 where a public hearing was held on the operational legality of the Red Room Arcade.

After reading a front page story in this newspaper (“Skill or Chance? – Questions linger over game rooms and internet cafes”) published on Thursday, April 13, Brenda Whitaker took exception to Boyer’s claims about the brief closure of the church.

Responding to the News-Herald earlier this week, Whitaker – a founding member of Church at the Crossroads – said Boyer’s printed remarks were incorrect.

“Church at the Crossroads has been a functioning place of worship since its inception on Feb. 27, 2000,” Whitaker stated. “During Ms. Boyer’s application to open her business, Church at the Crossroads was under the leadership of Reverend Rochelle Olson. Services were held on Sunday mornings and meetings on Wednesday evenings.

“We spoke with Paul Vaughan, Ahoskie Building Inspector, and he informed us that during Ms. Boyer’s application, his office was aware that Church at the Crossroads was indeed open. We are currently under the leadership of Pastor Mark Warren and continue to hold religious services to encourage our community with a message of hope, love, and peace,” Whitaker added.

At the April 11 meeting, Vaughan informed members of the Ahoskie Town Council that the ordinance calls for such a business to be 1,000 feet away from a church.

“Under that definition, the (Ahoskie) Planning Board said she was not (far enough) away from a church,” stated Vaughan, referring to the Crossroads Church on Main Street, which he says is only about 480 feet from the Red Room Arcade.

Vaughan also said Boyer told the Ahoskie Planning Board at its February meeting that her business was an arcade gaming room, despite her having received a letter from Code Enforcement that claimed it was an internet sweepstakes café, and Boyer’s business did not open for the purpose for which it had applied.

Mid-East Commission planner Ben Rogers also appeared at the February meeting and recommended an amendment to the town ordinance removing all language that would not allow any more new businesses of this type, but current ones would be grandfathered in until the state of North Carolina resolves the internet cafe issue.

Confusion persists statewide over what exactly is a violation of electronic sweepstakes laws, many of which have been enforced inconsistently across North Carolina in recent years as sweepstakes business owners have changed software and promotional methods in an attempt to prove compliance.

The Planning Board discussed Rogers’ findings and then found Red Room in violation of the town’s zoning laws and recommended it be closed down.

At the public hearing, Boyer said when she decided two years ago to have a gaming room on Main Street, the terminology “internet sweepstakes” was no longer used. Boyer added that she came back later and suggested to the Town Manager a ‘gaming room’, one that would be different from an internet sweepstakes café.

“It’s based on skill and dexterity,” she explained.

She admitted there are money pay-outs at her establishment, but they are legal.

Ahoskie Police Chief Troy Fitzhugh stated at the April 11 public hearing that two years ago he served letters to internet cafes in town – including one Boyer was a part of at that time – and subsequently these establishments were shut down.

“At that time they (NC Department of Public Safety) were telling me there was a letter I could provide to the cafes here in town, so I served them and shut them down,” Fitzhugh said. “But now they’ve come back, and they have now served (DPS and others) an injunction which has bound their hands at this time until they can come up with what law is going to stop them from acting as a game of chance to operate a computer with games on it.”

The chief said one of the reasons for the injunction against enforcement is because of changes in the software.

“Until it is resolved, that’s where we are at this time,” he stated. “We are waiting to hear what the final legalization is for each: a game of skill or a game of chance; the state has not yet decided.”

Fitzhugh said once the town gets involved there was a chance they could become part of a future injunction.

No decision was made by the Ahoskie Town Council at the close of the public hearing. Mayor Jimmie Rowe told Boyer she would be allowed to continue to operate.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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