Carthage Boards to Review Gaming Businesses
The Carthage Town Board and its planning board will hold a rare joint session Thursday to consider ordinances related to Internet gaming businesses.
Robbins already has two “Internet parlors” where people pay to play on systems that reveal results of their sweepstakes entries. Because they enter the sweepstakes by buying phone cards, the two businesses slipped under the zoning wire as “retail sales” — a permitted use in downtown Carthage as well as Robbins.
Other towns have passed laws regulating locations for Internet businesses, sometimes with high privilege taxes for the businesses and high fees for each machine on the premises, whether in use or not.
Whether those ordinances will pass court review remains to be seen. A recent N.C. Court of Appeals split decision throwing out previous state law restricting the businesses as a violation of free speech has been appealed to the state Supreme Court.
The current decision found that, since the computers and game systems only reveal results, they fall under the protection of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
Any business that starts up in Carthage as “retail sales” before Thursday would still have to qualify as a “permitted use” under current zoning, and these are not on that list, said Town Manager Carol Sparks. She said she’d checked it with the town attorney and with the School of Government at UNC in Chapel Hill on the question.
The Town Board has already designated June 19 as the date for a public hearing on any proposed amendments to town zoning.
Last month, Whispering Pines commissioners unanimously passed an amendment allowing gaming in its “neighborhood shopping district” with an amendment limiting them to no more than one within 500 feet of any residential dwelling.
Other towns, like Aberdeen, seek income from the currently popular pastime with high privilege taxes and other fees. Aberdeen’s law gives an exemption to nonprofit operations like fundraisers put on by churches, civic clubs and other such organizations.
One loophole that makes gaming parlors legal comes from customers technically buying something of value, like telephone or Internet time. They can just surf the Web, or play online games. Since the games do not determine wins and losses but only communicate them, the Court of Appeals found they did not differ from winnings revealed beneath a bottle cap and are therefore protected speech.
Similar “games” like the Monopoly promotions offered from time to time by McDonald’s are seen by some as gambling but have remained untaxed and legal.
In addition to proposals for an electronic gaming ordinance in Carthage, the Town Board will discuss other town ordinances relating to sidewalks, curbs and gutters, building facades and landscaping.
Commissioners are also expected to adopt the Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan at the meeting.
The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the McDonald Building, 203 McReynolds St.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or by email at email@example.com.
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