One acquittal, two mistrials in Council grocery store owner’s video sweepstakes case
The owner of a small grocery store in Council was found not guilty Tuesday of gambling and had two other video sweepstakes-related charges declared a mistrial.
Richard McRoy Taylor Jr., 77, who lives in Columbus County, operates K&R Grocery located on N.C. 211. The jury could not reach a verdict on charges of operating a video gaming machine and misdemeanor electronic sweepstakes.
The jury foreperson told Judge Ebern T. Watson in Bladen County Superior Court the panel was deadlocked 11-1 on the other charges and didn’t believe further deliberations would be able to deliver a unanimous verdict. It wasn’t revealed which way the jury was leaning.
The case revolved around whether four Gift Surplus video sweepstakes machines confiscated from the store in August 2015 were legal under North Carolina law. State law prohibits, in most cases, games of chance, which, the state contended, these machines involved.
Taylor’s defense team maintained the games involved skill and dexterity, and that players received credit to make purchases from the Gift Surplus web site equal to the amount of money put into the machine.
The jury of nine men and three women deliberated for about 3 1/2 hours over two sessions. The panel received the case Friday afternoon, then returned to court Tuesday morning. Shortly before noon, the jury told the court it had reached one verdict, but was deadlocked 11-1 on the other two charges. The jury returned about 15 minutes later and the foreperson told the judge the panel remained deadlocked.
After the verdict was read on the gambling charge, Watson declared a mistrial on the other two charges.
Taylor didn’t want to comment afterward, citing the two charges that were declared mistrials and could be retried.
George Hyler, Taylor’s lead counsel, said, “The jury listened to the evidence and did exactly what we think they should have done.”
District Attorney Jon David said his office would review the case to determine whether to retry Taylor on the charges of operating a video gaming machine and misdemeanor electronic sweepstakes.
“I’m grateful this jury struggled with these issues and that they were able to deliberate a verdict on at least one count,” David said. “I know we have a hung jury on the other two more important charges, and, so, we’ll be evaluating moving forward with what to do with those charges.”
David said some members of the jury told him afterward they based their acquittal of the gambling charge on whether Taylor knew the machines may be against the law.
“It concerned testimony concerning knowledge on (Taylor’s) behalf about whether these machines were legal or not, and what had been communicated to him by the gaming industry, the owners of the machines,” David said. “I’m unclear, at this point, if the jury is basing their decision on the unique facts of this case, or about whether this issue is one more difficult to resolve.
“We have to look at all cases on a case-by-case basis, so, we’ll be reviewing moving forward whether we’ll be retrying these cases.”
The trial was the latest in a series of cases pitting district attorney’s and law enforcement agencies across the state against video sweepstakes machine manufacturers and operators of the once-popular sweepstakes businesses.
Taylor’s case began May 14, 2015, when Bladen County Sheriff’s Office deputies were called to K&R Grocery to investigate a break-in, according to testimony. Investigator Matt Hester testified that while searching for evidence, he noticed the four gaming machines in a side room of the store.
On Aug. 11, 2015, David Borresen of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office testified that he entered the store and played one of the machines. He testified that he put $20 in one of the machines, played the Lucky Shamrock 2 game once and won $31. An 11-minute surveillance video was played of Borresen’s undercover operation.
The four Gift Surplus sweepstakes machines were confiscated Aug. 12, 2015. Taylor was charged with operating a video game machine on Dec. 7, 2015, gambling on June 6, and misdemeanor electronic sweepstakes on Aug. 1.