by Hillary LaClair, Senior Editor
North Carolina has put tighter restrictions on internet casino gambling. This week legislators voted on a bill that would apply the state video poker ban to any game resembling a slot machine played in online sweepstake websites. The games themselves are said to be mere contests in which participants are awarded prizes for the purchase of telephone or internet service cards. However those in opposition to these games claim that it is a loophole around the video poker ban.
Officials have expressed their intent to specify the internet gaming laws. Representative Ray Rapp argued to the judiciary panel, “Just when we think we’ve gotten it taken care of in terms of video poker and gaming, it pops up again. There is an effort to close the loophole there.” Hhe later went on to say that lawmakers should be more consistent with their stance on video poker. “We considered it bad public policy then and we consider it bad public policy now,” he said.
The video poker ban is enforced by state Alcohol Law Enforcement agents who say that there has been a slew of illicit activity taking place on computer terminals where video poker was once popular. Here a phone card is purchased that holds a limited amount of calling time minutes. To determine if they’ve won a prize, customers may either ask an operator to swipe the card or use the terminal to play a “slot-like game” similar to those seen on video poker machines and online casino websites. The terminal acts as a sort of virtual scratch-and-win lottery ticket.
Representative Melanie Goodwin tells us, however, that players may use any earnings to play the game continuously and win more cash prizes and this may cause them to spend excessive amounts of money on phone cards. North Carolina had legalized video poker for 14 years in an ongoing experiment. In July of 2007 the ban was put in place because lawmakers made complaints that low-income families were spending too much money on games of chance and that the machines were, God help us, offering big cash jackpots.
Theresa Kostrzewa, lobbying for the ban to be delayed, seemed to have made to only valid argument. Kostrzewa questioned whether the passage of the bill would give the North Carolina Education Lottery a monopoly on games of chance. “This is an issue that if we move too quickly,” she said, “will open the gate up to unforeseen consequences.” She went on to compare the sweepstakes games to many other products like soda that have codes placed under the cap or on the label which customers can use to visit the websites and place games to determine if they’ve won a prize.
Recently a state judge has approved an injunction which would temporarily delay the enforcement of the bill until the court has been provided with more clarity on the subject. Since then, however, another more specific bill has been proposed that will only prohibit those sweepstakes that make use of the computer terminal. As North Carolina has always been clear on its anti-gambling principles, many believe that we will see the bill passed within the next year.