Carthage Reviews Plans for Gaming Businesses
By John Chappell
The Carthage Town Board and its planning board reviewed ideas for dealing with emerging Internet gaming businesses but came to no solid conclusions Thursday evening.
The Town Board had already set June 19 as the date for a public hearing on gaming ordinances, but commissioners wanted to hear from planning board members. They got an earful, with some favoring high privilege fees and taxes on each game machine or Internet terminal.
Others, however, wanted low fees and taxes, pointing out that high costs would only put such businesses out into unincorporated county areas surrounding the town.
Town Manager Carol Sparks supplied the boards with a chart of what some other municipalities are doing and examples of two ordinances. One would add privilege fees per business and per machine. The other would amend the town development ordinance to add such businesses to the table of permitted uses - though only as "conditional use" - in three zones.
Such businesses would be allowed along U.S. 15-501, the extended area along N.C. 24-27 - the McDonald's, Food Lion, Flying Tiger and Hardee's area designated as the Thoroughfare Business District - and the closer-to-downtown section that starts about two blocks from the old Moore County courthouse. The center of downtown Carthage would be off-limits.
Chris Lassiter, chair of the planning board, did not favor high privilege fees.
"I don't like big taxes," Lassiter said. "Stick with minimal taxes. I am a minimal-tax person."
He warned that prohibitive costs would not stop Internet gaming or keep it very far from town. Doing that would only mean they'd be tempted to locate near - but not in - Carthage with any and all fees going into county coffers instead of the town's pocket.
Planning board member Max Muse told the Town Board it ought to think about the number of empty buildings in the center of the county seat.
"I never go to the middle of downtown Carthage," Muse said. "Vacant businesses. The (Internet parlors) I've seen are clean. We are trying to regulate things that aren't here yet. I don't think we ought to be so hard with these high fees."
Mayor Lee McGraw brought up other considerations, such as whether there should be a limit on how near such businesses could be to schools and churches. Muse said he'd like to see them away from both, but that he knows he can't always be made happy.
Many commissioners had visited some nearby Internet cafes, as had the town manager.
"I went to one in Vass; they have one in Lakeview," McGraw said. "It was very nice: dark, computer screens lit up, very nice people. They are all sitting in very nice chairs. There are two ways to play. I had $40 to play, and that's my limit. I lost my $20 pretty quickly. Then I made my second $20 last. Anyway you want to look at it, it's gambling. But it is coming whether we like it or not."
New business does not necessarily mean new jobs.
"I saw five people working in Lakeview," the mayor said. "They had two young ladies walking around clearing ashtrays. People were smoking. They have 25 Internet terminals and 15 game machines."
Commissioner Milton Dowdy expressed concern about gambling drawing so much of its income by tempting people of low income.
"If we are going to do this, let's do it in a balanced form," Dowdy said. "In most towns these are erected in the way of the poor. The mayor lost his $40, but it wasn't his last $40. Let's make sure it is not all placed in areas so accessible to the poor."
The mayor polled members of the planning board for their views. Most did not favor high privilege taxes or fees. Some favored adding it as a use to the Central Business District; others didn't want to see them anywhere near the historic center of the county seat.
The board will hear from the public at its June 19 hearing before taking any action on electronic gaming.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or by email at jfchappell @gmail.com.
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