County to talk sweepstakes regulation
Lincoln County residents and business owners will get to share ideas about how county officials should regulate Internet sweepstakes gaming centers.
The North Carolina State Court of Appeals declared Internet sweepstakes games, which mimic video poker and other computer-based gambling games, legal in March.
The case has been appealed to the State Supreme Court, but in the meantime, officials across the Lake Norman region are looking for ways to restrict Internet sweepstakes games within their jurisdiction.
The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners will seek input from residents about a new proposal to regulate these businesses at a 6:30 p.m. Aug. 6 public hearing at the James W. Warren Citizens Center, 115 W. Main St., Lincolnton.
Like video poker or slot machines, Internet sweepstakes are games of chance that offer a prize.
“We looked at regulations in other cities and counties and based this proposal on that,” Randy Hawkins, Lincoln County zoning administrator, said. “It’s actually the planning board that initiated this.”
Current zoning rules classify Internet sweepstakes centers as “amusement centers,” Hawkins said. They fall into the same category as children’s arcades, but attract a different customer base that sime say requires stricter regulations.
The county defines an amusement center as an indoor facility that charges customers to play three or more pinball games, pool tables, video games or games of chance.
Unlike amusement centers, sweepstakes centers will only be able to open in areas zoned as “general business” – near busy intersections such as N.C. 16 and N.C. 73. Currently, zoning guidelines allow amusement centers, to open in neighborhood business districts, Hawkins said.
The proposal, if approved, will prohibit sweepstakes gaming center owners from:
• Opening a center within 200 feet of residential property; and
• Opening a center within 500 feet of a church, school, day care center, public park or library; and
• Operating outside of 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 8 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday
Every terminal must be visible from the building’s front entrance.
The three Internet sweepstakes centers in Lincoln County already operating on N.C. 16 would not be subject to the new restrictions, Hawkins said.
Other nearby towns are also attempting to regulate Internet sweepstakes centers, which residents often associate with crime and shady activities.
Huntersville wants to implement restrictions, which also include the sale of alcohol, because sweepstakes centers present many of the same challenges as gambling parlors, Huntersville Police Chief Phil Potter, said. They are typically open late at night, there are large amounts of cash coming and going, and they often lead to loitering, noise disturbances and other crimes, he said.
Alcohol sales in Lincoln County, Hawkins said, are already limited to restaurants and private clubs.
In Mooresville, the criteria for new Internet sweepstakes business are even more strict, with operating hours restricted to 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Sunday.