MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. -- At midnight, Mecklenburg County’s internet sweepstakes parlors will close for good – though some owners say they are prepared to fight the ban.
“It potentially puts thousands of people out of work,” said Jeremy Thomas, owner of the Starmount Business Center on South Blvd. “I don't want any of my employees to go to the unemployment office.”
North Carolina’s legislature outlawed the sweepstakes cafes in 2010, and the state Supreme Court later upheld the law. Video poker was outlawed in 2007 and many businesses had used the sweepstakes computers to get around the law.
Thomas and other owners say they are suing to reopen, but for now they must close to comply with the law.
“We'll have to shut down, ask our guests to leave,” he said, “and hopefully we can continue to do this at some other point.”
A sign on the door tells customers how they can play at home. Thomas hopes that in a few days, the business can reopen in a way that follows the law. He said sweepstakes parlors don’t deserve their bad reputation.
“It's a really safe environment. There’s no drugs or alcohol or anything like that allowed,” said Thomas. “We've never had to call the police on anybody -- that's a big misconception.”
Tamela Moore and her mom Daisy also don’t understand what the fuss is about. They play every week or two to catch up with friends and have some fun.
“My dad just passed away in March and my mom's been depressed, so I bring her up here and she can play the games and get her mind off things and we have fun,” said Tamela.
She doesn’t see a difference between internet games and bingo or the lottery.
“I don't see why they should have the right to tell us what we can and can't do with our money,” she said.
The difference, said Thomas, is the “entertaining display” in sweepstakes internet games. That’s the legal term for the video gaming screens which the state legislature banned.
Thomas will close at midnight and spend Sunday dismantling computers. He’s not sure how long it will take to reopen with another business, but he hopes it is soon.
“Until that time comes, we'll be looking for other jobs, I suppose,” he said.