On Thursday the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision that kept the Onslow County sheriff from enforcing laws banning video poker gaming. The decision was issued a month and a half after federal prosecutors struck an amnesty deal with six video sweepstakes machine and service providers. No federal prosecutions will occur if the machines cease operations by July 1.
The Supreme Court ruling will take effect on July 1st as well. On that day law enforcement officers can once again begin their raids and arrests at businesses offering “electronic slot machines” in violation of the law. Onslow officers have been barred from enforcing the law since a county judge issued an order in November 2013 halting police actions while legal challenges were being decided.
Sandhill Amusements Inc. of Pinehurst and GiftSurplus of Georgia were plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The decision against the company depended upon an opinion from former lower court judge, Sam Ervin IV. Justice Ervin has been a member of the high court since last year. In that opinion Justice Ervin wrote that sweepstakes machines are covered under North Carolina’s gambling prohibitions as games of chance.
The struggle between law enforcement and game providers has been ongoing since 2006 when lawmakers first banned electronic gambling including video poker. Providers have subsequently adapted their games in an effort to circumvent the law and provide amusement for a significant percentage of the population who wish to gamble.
The only legal gambling avenues in the state are the North Carolina Education Lottery, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino (and soon Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino near Murphy) and low-stakes “beach bingo” with prizes of $10 or less.
The expression, “stick a fork in it, it’s done” may not be apropos yet however. The first tine, representing the deal made in May by federal prosecutors for the Eastern District of North Carolina to not prosecute any previous actions as long as machine supply and services stop by July 1 – and the current Supreme Court ruling taking effect the same day being tine number two, could both bend on razorback hide if lobbyist for an industry group representing sweepstakes companies is able to convince lawmakers to repeal or modify current law. The North Carolina General Assembly has no statutory end-date to their legislative calendar and currently have actions scheduled into August.