Sweepstakes to Stay Dead This Time?
Let’s suppose that Congress, in a moment of unprecedented lucidity, banned or restricted the exotic financial instruments like credit default swaps that contributed to the 2008 financial collapse.
And let’s suppose that Goldman Sachs sued, and a judge temporarily blocked enforcement of the new law.
Finally, let’s suppose that I, following this ruling, decided to open an investment house that specialized in arranging these contracts where people buy insurance on securities that they don’t own or buy bonds that are really only pieces of paper that mimic bonds. I did all this knowing that my business had already been outlawed by Congress and was only permitted because of a temporary court ruling.
Would you feel sorry for me if Congress, in response to the court ruling, passed a tighter law that put me out of business?
Despite finding itself in pretty much these circumstances, the video poker industry in North Carolina seems to be expecting pity these days.
North Carolina legislators banned video poker in 2006. They did it again in 2008. And they did so yet again last week.
The legislature enacted its latest ban after court rulings undermined the 2006 and 2008 prohibitions.
Those court decisions said the earlier bans didn’t apply to machine owners who tied operations to Internet servers and had patrons pay for “time” on the machines. Once the decision came down, “sweepstakes cafes” began popping up all over the state.
The owners created these little casinos while the court cases remained under appeal, and even though the elected representatives of the people of North Carolina had made clear on two separate occasions that the operations were illegal.
Even so, when legislators passed the latest ban, the crying began soon after.
“As a business person, I feel bad for the people who had made commitments with leases and equipment and employees and all the things that go into business to have this pulled away from them so quickly,” a commercial real estate agent told The Wilmington Stars-News.
Well, here’s another interpretation: A business model based on a loophole in the law is a pretty risky business model. Enter at your own risk.
In Fayetteville, city officials complained that the decision would cost them $1.2 million after they decided to tax the machines.
Now there’s some good legal and political advice: We can balance our budget by taxing these machines that are operating only through the grace of a temporary court order made by a single, lower court judge in Guilford County. After passing the ban, state House members had yet to stroll out of the chamber before industry officials vowed that they would find another loophole.
Maybe they will. Maybe the courts of North Carolina will continue to ignore legislative intent. Maybe some judge will decide that he or she is wiser than the collective wisdom of 170 people elected by voters throughout the state. Or, maybe legislators have finally driven a stake into the heart of a bloodsucker.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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