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What makes video gaming machines illegal

By Erin Smith

Following the raid and closing of four video gaming establishments in Bladen County last week, some of our readers have asked what it is that makes the games illegal. The answer to that is not so easy.

“Video gaming and gambling in general is a grey area and everyone interprets this area in their own way.  In the end, a game of chance is a game of chance and a game of skill is a game of skill.  When you put a bet with a game of chance, you have broken the law in the State of North Carolina,” said Sgt. J. Hewett, with the Criminal Investigations/Narcotics Unit of the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office.

Bladen County Chief Deputy Larry Guyton said the charges against the operators of the establishments raided last week pertain to the type of software used by the games. He explained the undercover officers with the Alcohol Law Enforcement are trained in how to identify software that is illegal under the North Carolina General Statutes.

The establishments that were subjected to raids and had machines seized last week and the owners are facing charges included Freddy’s on Elm in Clarkton, Klix 211 Arcade in Abbottsburg, Jewels Sweepstakes in Bladenboro, and 701 Sweepstakes near White Lake. One establishment, the Aladdin in Dublin, voluntarily closed its doors.

“They were using software, that by definition of the General Statutes, is illegal,” said Chief Deputy Guyton.

Sgt. Hewett noted that it is very clear what a game of chance and a game of skill are. The NC General Statute 14-292, defines as gambling, “Any person or organization that operates any game of chance or any person who plays or gets on any game of chance at which any money, property or other thing of value is bet, whether be in stake or not.”

He also explained that under the NC General Statutes it is illegal for someone to bet on a game by placing money on the chance there will be a particular outcome. For example, if the player makes a bet on the chances of the symbols in a game lining up a certain way, that is considered gambling.

Sgt. Hewett said it is illegal for anyone to operate a video game that simulates a game ordinarily played on slot machines for the purposes of electronic game promotion. He added it is also illegal to promote a sweepstakes that is conducted through the use of an entertaining display such as a computer screen.

Sgt. Hewett said there are some software companies who are still involved in litigation with the Alcohol Law Enforcement agency here in North Carolina.

“Basically, they are arguing their software is legal,” said Sgt. Hewett.

So far, only one software company, Gift Surplus, has had two court rulings in their favor in North Carolina. As a result of those two court rulings, ALE is under a temporary retraining order with Gift Surplus.

In the Onslow County Court ruling issued by Superior Court Judge Ebern T. Watson, it reads, “Gift Surplus operates a lawful and legitimate e-commerce business and in support thereof offers to the public a legitimate promotional sweepstakes.”

The ruling also continues, “Sweepstakes are governed by NC General Statute 14-306.4. If operated in compliance with all statutes, a promotional sweepstakes is lawful in North Carolina (as they are in many other states) and are offered to the public by many major retailers and manufacturers.”

Sgt. Hewett said Moore County also issued a similar ruling. In the Moore County case, Gift Surplus kiosks are seized during a raid of several businesses. Moore County Superior Court Judge James Webb upheld Judge Watson’s ruling and order the machines seized to be returned to the business owners.

The court rulings are currently under appeal. The court rulings apply only to the Gift Surplus machines at this time. Sgt. Hewett said no Gift Surplus machines were knowingly seized in Thursday’s raids.

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