RED SPRINGS — A court ruling last month allowed some Internet sweepstakes operators to reopen business in Scotland County, but Robeson County authorities are not yet sure if they will allow them to expand into Red Springs.
Grace Outlaw wants to bring a gaming parlor to the small town, but officials say opening a sweepstakes operation is far from a sure bet.
“My understanding from the district attorney and the Attorney General’s Office is that any sweepstakes operation is still against the law,” Red Springs Police Chief Ronnie Patterson said after meeting with the gaming operator on Monday.
Patterson said he would check with Scotland and state officials about whether Outlaw’s machines are exempt from the ban on sweepstakes parlors and try to give her a definitive answer by Friday.
Outlaw has been running a Carolina Cyber Center on South Main Street in Leisure Road for a few weeks, after a District Court judge said the software used in her original business does not violate the ban on sweepstakes parlors that authorities began enforcing early last year after the state Supreme Court declared a 2010 ban on video gambling constitutional.
Outlaw and others in her industry claim that the state ban hinges on the use of “an entertaining display or visual information, capable of being seen by a sweepstakes player that takes the form of actual game play.”
Outlaw’s machines use Blue Diamond software that reveals the winners in advance — a loophole that keeps those machines in compliance with the law, according to Outlaw.
“They came in and said we were running an illegal operation, but the judge saw different,” said Robert Outlaw, who runs a business of the same name on Main Street. “We went to court and we won our case, so the Blue Diamond system won.”
Charges were also dismissed against customers who were present in Carolina Cyber Center and charged with illegal gambling when the business was closed by law enforcement earlier this year.
The Blue Diamond software used by Carolina Cyber Center prompts customers to click a reveal button when they begin their interaction with the machine. That button simply shows the user, without use of graphics such as a simulated roulette wheel, whether or not they have won. At that point, when the sweepstakes portion of the session has ended, users may then opt to play the “game.”
“A lot of gaming establishment stuck with the old system and that is why they have not reopened, but we went with the new software that shows you what you would win without going through a game,” Grace Outlaw said. “The judge ruled that was all right.”
Outlaw said she would like to locate the gaming parlor in a vacant store near the Food Lion shopping center on Fourth Street in Red Springs. She also plans to locate a gaming business in Pembroke.
“I’m hoping that if our parlors are legal in Laurinburg, than they are legal everywhere,” she said.
Town officials said that if the new software make the businesses permissible, the parlors could once again be a lucrative source of revenue for the municipality. Before a ruling deemed sweepstakes games illegal, Red Springs welcomed the machines, collecting more than $100,000 in fees during a fiscal year.
Patterson continues to be skeptical.
“We don’t care if the games come or not,” Patterson said. “But I have a feeling that we’re going to continue to enforce the ban. If we don’t, the SBI will be down here investigating why we are not doing our jobs.”