Buncombe sheriff: legal order preventing electronic gambling busts

A legal order preventing enforcement of a recently passed state gambling law is stopping law enforcement from cracking down on new electronic-gambling machines that offer cash payouts, Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan and District Attorney Ron Moore said in a press conference today.

“The legislature passed a law at the end of last year that outlawed the new, computer-based machines,” Duncan said. “We knew we had several businesses that had those machines that were operating. We’d received numerous complaints from the public about family members going in, spending up their paycheck — the same kind of complaints we’d received with the old machines. We started an investigation. We sent detectives out. We were moving towards getting the machines removed from the store.”

But they hit a roadblock, however, on Dec. 16, when Guilford County Superior Court Judge John Craig issued a restraining order on enforcing the law at the request of Hest Technologies and International Internet Technologies, two companies that are suing to overturn it.

“We’re kind of limbo right now: Our hands are tied,” Duncan said. “We’re waiting for some kind of ruling on that particular case.”

The issue is a particularly sensitive one in Buncombe County because Duncan’s predecessor, Bobby Medford, is currently serving 15 years in federal prison on corruption charges related to protection he provided to illegal video-poker operators.

There are 40 machines in 13 locations throughout the county that the Sheriff’s Office is aware of, Duncan said.

“My advice — and it is advice only — to store owners is to not get too involved in this activity until you see where the courts are going to go with it, because it very well could become something illegal in a short amount of time,” Duncan said. “There aren’t any regulations or rules like there were on the old video-poker machines [before they were banned].”

The new machines work like this: A customer will buy a phone or Internet-access card that also allows them a certain amount of time playing a game of chance on a computer. They can get cash payouts for the amount they win. The suit filed by Hest and IIT claims that since the customer is buying something of value, the ability to randomly win some cash at the machines isn’t the main purpose and thus they’re as legal as a scratch-off game at a fast-food chain.

“To us, it seems to work just like the old machines,” Duncan said.

Furthermore, a sheriff’s investigator — whose identity was not divulged due to the fact that he does undercover work — said at the conference that the phone cards often don’t actually work.

“We bought several cards and tried to make phone calls, [and] every time we tried that we’d get a busy signal,” he said. “When we called the 800 number on a cell phone, it would say our account balance was zero. You can get on the Internet with them, but one lady told me that no one ever gets on the Internet. In one place there wasn’t even a keyboard to get on the Internet. It was strictly set up for gambling.”

“Their argument is that it’s like a sweepstakes, like when McDonald’s has the monopoly game,” Moore added.

Moore said that the ongoing gambling poses several problems.

“The large amounts of money involved generates corruption,” he said. “Secondly, these are large amounts of cash money for which no taxes are paid and thirdly, from the point of view of a lot of people in state government, it competes with the lottery.”

“The ruling said that the machines, in the judge’s opinion, don’t violate the changed law,” Moore continued. “We’re at an impasse of being able to investigate or prosecute these machines right now. I’ve talked with the assistant attorney general handling the case, and they’re trying to schedule some motions to see if they can’t dispose of this in court.”

— David Forbes, staff writer


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3 thoughts on “Buncombe sheriff: legal order preventing electronic gambling busts

  1. LOKEL

    Ah HA!

    “from the point of view of a lot of people in state government, it competes with the lottery.”

    So anything that the “people” in state government thinks competes with the precious “EDUCATION” lottery should be illegal.

    Why isn’t the Casino in Cherokee illegal?

    Why is anything where you “have a chance” of winning not illegal?

    Why not bust into homes – someone might be gambling in the privacy of their own home!!!!!!

  2. Jeff Fobes

    Judge John Craig comes up in a Google search for:

    (2004) issuing a temporary restraining order (TRO) against one of Randolph/Guilford counties’ “largest video gaming machine vendors,” Hest Amustement Co, according to http://www.nccrimecontrol.org/NewsReleases/2004/ale/RestrainingOrderHeathAmusement.html

    (March 2008) At the request of Hest and International Internet Technologies, Judge Craig issued a TRO stopping state authorities from enforcing state laws anti-gambling laws, according to http://www.news-record.com/node/3097

    Citizen-Times’ Clarke Morrison reports that on Dec 19, 2008, Hess and other companies convinced Craig to issue a TRO against the state again, this time against N.C.’s new anti-gambling laws that passed in 2008. http://www.citizen-times.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2009902140317

    It would be interesting to read the text of Craig’s decisions, and to learn what has been happening in N.C. courts since 2004 on these matters.

  3. Jeff Fobes

    Three thoughts:
    1) Will not an interested lawyer or student of law help us pierce the LexisNexis veil and get the details of these cases for the public to scrutinize? (And why doesn’t the all-gathering Google index legal docs? After all, increasingly, legal thinking/understanding is essential to the evolution & governance of human societies.)

    2) From Google’s search results, I infer that the mass media have not covered the legal machinations of this multi-year fight between the state of North Carolina and Hest Co. Why not? Since journalists are trained to “follow the money,” if given the opportunity by their managers, they’d be all over this story. My take on the situation is that mass media are insufficient to meet the needs of a complex, industrial, info-age democracy — as they are funded and constituted in the current model. What’s next? Chaos or reorganization?

    3) Yokel broadens the question by asking why is one form of gambling legal and another not? Great question, it seems to me, but its implications are so far-reaching (and head straight into religion), I think I’d rather stay focused on the legal issues of what’s happening between Hest and “the people of North Carolina” — who are us, ourselves, our government.

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