The Governor's Strange Stand On Sweepstakes
Gov. Beverly Perdue doesn't like it. Still, she wants it. She wants the money. She wants to avoid budget cuts to the public schools.
No matter how you slice it, her position can hardly be deemed anything but contradictory and nonsensical.
But there was Perdue, the other day, calling for the legalization of video sweepstakes machines.
"Let me be clear. I've got a record on it and I don't like sweepstakes," Perdue told reporters, "but until we can outlaw them or somehow the courts allow them to be outlawed forever, we need to tax the heck out of them and regulate them hard."
Let me be clear: Once you tax them, regulate them, and state government becomes dependent on the revenue stream which they produce, you will never outlaw them.
These street-corner mini-casinos will be in North Carolina to stay.
Part of the problem when it comes to video sweepstakes parlors, or their predecessor, video poker, is that they have existed in North Carolina for more than a decade in some netherworld in which they are neither legal nor illegal.
State legislators have outlawed this form of gambling twice. Even before the bans, the state prohibited significant cash payouts and prizes, but many of the machine operators handed out illegal cash payouts.
Courts responded with rulings undermining the bans.
Most recently, the state Court of Appeals struck down a ban on video sweepstakes after the legislature attempted to continue to allow those Coke cap and McDonald's scratch-off sweepstakes games while prohibiting the Internet sweepstakes casinos that video poker operators had created to get around a video poker ban.
The premise of the video sweepstakes games is that customers are buying Internet or phone time rather than paying to gamble. To actually believe that requires the intellectual capacity of SpongeBob SquarePants.
Nonetheless, two members of a three-member panel of the Court of Appeals did. They decided that the case was about free speech, not gambling. Now an appeal by the state is pending before the state Supreme Court.
At stake is whether or not North Carolina towns and cities are inundated with more of these corner street gambling parlors that - without the entertainment and glitz of major casino destinations - appeal largely to addicted gamblers.
As Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican and chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee, put it, "Sweep-stakes machines are a scourge on the public, and it's causing more and more problems."
Apodaca said legislators should await the Supreme Court decision.
And if the state's high court fails to overrule the Court of Appeals, then perhaps the General Assembly will consider the advice of another mountain legislator, Democratic House member Ray Rapp.
Rapps says the state would be better off to ban all sweepstakes games, including those scratch-off tickets in your fast food bag, rather than allow the proliferation of the video sweepstakes parlors.
I suppose if Perdue doesn't like sweepstakes parlors, then Apodaca and Rapp really, really don't like them.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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