Several local Internet Sweepstakes Cafes that closed for several weeks after Rocky Mount police threatened to shut them down have reopened in recent days.
The Internet Sweepstakes Cafe owners had said they were worried about landing in jail and having their machines confiscated.
But as they watched other cafes continue to operate without being shut down, they decided to reopen.
In December, the N.C. Supreme Court upheld a state law banning video sweepstakes games at the Internet Sweepstakes Cafes.
In a “notice of enforcement” letter sent out last month to cafe owners, Rocky Mount Police Chief James Moore warned that after Jan. 24, the police department “will commence enforcement” of the state statute.
“This includes, but is not limited to, any owner, operator, manager or employee involved in the illegal activity,” Moore stated in the letter. “The purpose of this notice is to provide a grace period prior to any enforcement action.”
Rocky Mount police aren’t commenting on their reasons for allowing the Internet Sweepstakes Cafes to stay open.
“Our position has remained the same, if there is an arrest related to this crime I will notify (the newspaper),” Cpl. Mike Lewis said in an email last week.
Annie Hansley said she is not happy that police have not shut down EZ Access Internet cafe on South Wesleyan Boulevard. It recently reopened after being closed for several weeks.
She said she used to go there often, sometimes losing several hundred dollars at a time. She said she’s now trying to persuade other family members not to go there and blow their paychecks.
Hansley said the Internet Sweepstakes Cafes are insidious because they are open 24 hours a day, so people can get their gambling fix at any time.
“I’m trying my best to come out of it. I did have a problem (with gambling),” she said.
Shawn Bynum, who works at the recently reopened Computer Times Sweepstakes on Wesleyan Boulevard, said just because some people have a problem with gambling doesn’t mean the government should ban everyone from playing.
“It’s like people saying, ‘I eat too much food. McDonald’s made me eat it,’ ” she said. “This is a choice. Nobody makes anyone walk into this store. A lot of people do this for relaxation.”
She said many players in the cafes limit themselves to investing $20 to $25 and have an enjoyable evening.
“Because you have no self-control, why must you make things worse for someone else?” she said.
Bynum said some people can’t control gambling on the state-sanctioned lottery, but nobody is trying to eliminate that. She said she knows a woman who spends $60 a day on Pick 3 lottery tickets, yet she’s asking for financial help when her monthly light bill is due.
Closing the Internet Sweepstakes Cafes also would hurt the cafe’s 15 employees, who count on their jobs to make ends meet, she said. Bynum said when that cafe closed down for a couple of weeks, she lost $600 in income for her and her family.
“Without this job, things would be really tight for me and my four kids,” she said.
In Wilson, only a couple of cafes remain open. Several cafes recently closed, but not because police shut them down. They closed down after the city passed an ordinance allowing the cafes only in a certain industrial zone, which meant some had to close.
“We have not taken any criminal enforcement action against them yet,” Wilson police Capt. Eric Smith said. “We did send out a letter that said if (owners) did open (a cafe), we’d evaluate what they are doing, along with the District Attorney’s Office. If we deemed it to be in violation of the statute, we’d be filing charges.”
He said some people who want to open Internet Sweepstakes Cafes have been calling the department asking for advice.
“We are not offering any legal opinions,” he said.