Sweepstakes cafes betting software update their salvation
Jan 05, 2013 (Times-News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The Internet sweepstakes cafe at West Elm Business Center on Elm Street in Graham was closed Friday, but that didn't stop a steady stream of customers from parading to the door.
A sign posted outside the business began: "We will be closing to update our systems."
The door was locked Friday, but one of the workers inside opened it time and again and promised faithful followers of the business they'd soon reopen.
"We'll probably be open tomorrow or Sunday," the man told several people who came to the door within a 15-minute-or-so span Friday morning.
The owners of West Elm Business Center -- like owners of numerous other Internet cafes across the area -- have closed their business in reaction to a state law banning video sweepstakes machines. The law went into effect at midnight Wednesday.
Most of those owners say they've refurbished their machines -- or are in the process of doing so -- with new computer software that will make them legal. They promise to reopen.
The legality of those software updates appears as murky as the law that has forced the hugely popular cafes to close. Alamance County District Attorney Pat Nadolski has opted for a wait-and-see attitude toward prosecution of Internet cafe owners until questions regarding their operation are resolved.
Other district attorneys across the state have said they're awaiting clearer instructions from N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper before proceeding.
The majority of owners of Internet cafes seem to have a shared distrust of the media -- or appear worried they'll face retribution from authorities if they plead their cases in a public setting. Many shop owners around Alamance County have declined interview requests from the Times-News.
One of the owners of West Elm Business Center initially welcomed a reporter's visit, then opted not to divulge his name.
Don Bullis of Village Marketplace Sweepstakes in Haw River is an exception. He allowed his business to be featured two weeks ago in a Times-News story regarding the complexities of Internet gaming though he, too, worried aloud at the time about possible retribution for doing so.
After being closed Thursday for software updates, Village Marketplace was reopened by mid-morning Friday. Bullis said it's his understanding that software updates to the 99 machines in his business bring them into compliance with state laws regarding those games.
"I had personnel here all night last night (installing new software)," Bullis said.
Still, he admitted, how it all plays out remains to be seen. Bullis said he's been told that once his business reopens, "We're on our own."
Exactly how courts eventually rule on the gaming process is anyone's guess. The retrofitting of the games is at least a little confusing. Several parlor owners referred to it as a process where winnings are "pre-revealed."
A female involved with the software update at Village Marketplace said a small corner of the gaming machine now shows winnings as soon as the game begins. She said many players hide the corner and wait for the spin of the game to play itself out.
Calls Friday to two companies involved with the software updates were not returned.
Employees of two local sweepstakes cafes provided the Times-News copies of a letter written by an attorney who represents the City of Roanoke Rapids. The letter concludes that gaming devices retrofitted with software updates do not violate state law pertaining to gambling.
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