By Paul Gable
A bill to ban internet sweepstakes games took a key step forward yesterday when it passed second reading in the Senate by a 40-2 margin.
The bill seeks to close any loophole business owners cite, in the state’s gambling laws, to operate so-called sweepstakes cafes. Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin said the bill clears up any ambiguity in the law.
The state banned video gambling in 2000. Operators of internet sweepstakes cafes say the games compare to the sweepstakes that McDonald’s uses as a promotion every year. Law enforcement officials in the state contend that they are merely another form of gambling.
Magistrates throughout the state have been split on their interpretation of the law with some ruling the computer games illegal while others rule them legal.
The Senate was considered the more difficult body to get this type of bill through. It requires a successful third reading before passing to the House.
While the legislative process moves along slowly, SLED has been actively raiding internet sweepstakes cafes operating around the state.
According to several sources, raids were conducted in Horry County yesterday, closing down several, but not all, internet sweepstakes cafes in the unincorporated areas of the county. Horry County has been a prime target for opening new locations since it has conflicting rulings from magistrates about the current legality of the operations.
Additionally, with the recent ban on these games by the N.C. Supreme Court, Horry County is one of the first stops operators, moving across the border, have looked to use.
Currently, Horry County government refuses to issue business licenses to internet sweepstakes operators while the city of Myrtle Beach government issues business licenses to operators of internet sweepstakes games.
SLED has successfully raided businesses in the unincorporated areas of Horry County, but, we know of no such raid conducted within the city limits of Myrtle Beach to date.