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Charlotte Area News

Ban Not Likely To Close Sweepstakes Parlors

Wayne Robbins plays video poker. align=left

On Wednesday, ban on video poker and electronic gambling parlors takes effect in North Carolina. But many owners of what are called "sweepstakes cafes" say they have no plans to close down. A lobbyist for the sweepstakes operators estimates there are about 100 of them in Mecklenburg County - 1,000 statewide. But there's no official count. They just have a way of popping up. Like the one called Tryon Village Business Center which moved into a strip mall in February. Outside it advertises copying and internet access - not gambling. Inside, there's stale smoke, rows of computers and a couple of old-school video poker machines against the back wall - the kind you'd expect to see in Vegas. People buy pre-paid phone and internet cards and get credit to play the games. Tryon Village Business Center Manager Tremecia Bell says the video poker machines are going away with the ban. So will some of the games on the computer terminals, but not all. "The keno games, the card games and any games that say anything about Vegas, they're supposed to take all of those off," explains Bell. "But other than that, the games will still play. We're not closing. We have no reason to close because what we do is still legal." Sweepstakes operators believe a recent superior court ruling gives them some wiggle room to continue offering the internet-based games with new software that scales back on the flashy display. But the law is pretty clear about the stand-alone video poker machines that Wayne Robbins likes to play. He showed up at Tryon Village Business Center Tuesday afternoon when the he found the machines missing from the gas station where he usually plays. "Yeah they pulled them out about an hour ago - I was gonna play a little bit after work and they were gone!" said Robbins. He'd heard it was the last day to play his favorite game, so he came looking for a final fix. It's a good way to relax, he says. Robbins thinks the ban is silly. "Seems like they could make some good money if they'd leave it alone," says Robbins. A coalition of sweepstakes operators in North Carolina are pushing for exactly that - they want the legislature to legalize the machines, regulate them and take a cut of the profits. Opponents say the sweepstakes cafes encourage gambling addiction and attract violent crime.