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NC Appeals Court Hands Video Gambling Companies Another Loss as Republicans Work to Legalize Sweepstakes Games

Source: N.C. Newsline

Instead of working on the budget that is more than six weeks overdue, Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly are focusing on what really matters to them – gambling and casinos.

Republican legislative leaders are currently focusing on expanding casino gambling beyond those that are owned by American Indian tribes. While this is happening, a state Appeals Court ruled against an electronic sweepstakes business in Catawba County, handing the video gambling industry another loss, NC Newsline reported

The legislature has passed numerous laws over the last 23 years to limit, and eventually ban, video poker and electronic sweepstakes. In response, gaming companies made changes to the rules of their games and changed the software as they tried to get around the bans.

The result of those changes is what we commonly see at sweepstakes parlors throughout the state – fish tables. These games involve players shooting images of fish swimming across a video screen. Sweepstakes businesses making money from fish tables claim that they are games of skill and not chance, which would be illegal.

The latest court battle in Catawba County involves the game Ocean Fish King and pits the police chiefs of Hickory and Conover against two gaming companies, Fun Arcade and Barracuda Ventures. According to NC Newsline, law enforcement in Catawba County has been fighting fish tables businesses for years. A trial court recently ruled in favor of the police chiefs of Hickory and Conover against the two companies, who then filed an appeal. The Appeals Court also ruled against the companies.

The evidence that sealed the fate of the gaming companies was the fact that an expert hired by the police chiefs determined that the Ocean Fish King game was so full of fish on the screen that it was nearly impossible to miss hitting one, yet there was no pattern to destroying the fish, NC Newsline reported. Because, as the expert explained, players can’t rely on any strategy or knowledge to improve their chances of winning, it should be considered a game of chance and not of skill.

The Appeals Court judges decided that Ocean Fish King is mostly a game of chance and that the two businesses broke the law against operating sweepstakes machines and other similar types of games.

Sweepstakes parlors do have a legislator on their side, though. Rep. Harry Warren (R-Rowan) has tried for years to legalize video gambling, according to NC Newsline. Warren has said that regulating these games will result in illegal operations being forced to close. His bill, House Bill 512, would legalize the machines and give a portion of the revenue generated by them to state HBCUs, UNC-Pembroke and toward community college loans.

The games could only be placed in “approved locations,” Warren told a House committee in May.

“We’re not targeting low-income neighborhoods,” he said. “We can actually avoid that from happening. We can take responsibility for where these machines are at.”

Warren’s attempts at legalizing these games have not yet been successful, but that could soon change as Republicans have used this legislative session to expand legal gambling. Republicans heavily supported the effort to allow online sports betting and they are now considering legislation to allow casinos to open in Nash, Anson and Rockingham counties, as well as potentially letting the Lumbee tribe run a casino.

House Speaker Tim Moore told WRAL that there’s support in the Republican House caucus for video lottery terminals.

One group that Republicans will need to be careful not to draw the ire of is conservative Christians. That will be a tough balancing act considering how many groups are vehemently opposed to gambling.


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