Sweepstakes halls shut down
Jan 05, 2013 (The Wilson Daily Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Neon "Open" signs were turned off and computer monitors went black as Internet sweepstakes businesses across the city closed down this week.
Two businesses -- Fish the Net Sweepstakes and the H&P Business Centre -- remained open Wednesday and each received a letter from a city inspector that notified the owners they were in violation of city zoning rules. The inspector asked that the businesses close or potentially face further action, including penalty fees, according to the letters. Fish the Net and H&P have since closed.
A note was posted on the door of Fish the Net, on Forest Hills Road, alerting customers that the closing is temporary "until further notice." The H&P Business Centre, at 1301 Ward Blvd. in the Boulevard Plaza, also had a note taped to its front door that says the closing is temporary but due to the installation of new software that complies with state law. The note states that the business will only be closed a few days.
As of Jan. 1, sweepstakes businesses are required to either close or move into the city's heavy industrial district, an I-2 zone. Four businesses have been operating in the city in other areas than the I-2 zone and have been facing the deadline.
Cyberlinks Internet Cafe Sweepstakes, at 504 Raleigh Road Parkway, was packed last week with an overflow parking lot but is now closed. Across the street, Sweepstakes, at 507 Raleigh Road Parkway, had a hand-written note posted on its window that said the business would not re-open but comply with the city of Wilson's ruling.
Fish the Net and the H&P Business Centre were the only two businesses that received a letter this week because they were open beyond the Jan. 1 deadline, said Matt Shaw, Wilson's communications coordinator.
The city's letter that was sent to Fish the Net and the H&P Business Centre reminded the owners that the city's zoning rules require the businesses to only locate in the I-2 zone and that previous notices have been sent as reminders of the deadline. The businesses were given three years to reach compliance, a provision within the city's Internet cafe ordinance that was adopted by city council in December 2009.
The letter also indicated that if the businesses did not comply with the city's zoning ordinance within 10 days, by Jan. 12, that they could be cited for the violation and fined.
Another sweepstakes business, Hot Spot Internet Cafe along U.S. 301, was also closed on Friday even though the business is located in the city's I-2 zone and in compliance with city zoning rules.
The owners of sweepstakes businesses in Wilson have been facing two deadlines, the city's Jan. 1 date to close or move into an I-2 zone and Jan. 3 when law enforcement officers have been told they can start enforcing the state law by closing down sweepstakes businesses. A recent N.C. Supreme Court ruling upheld a 2010 ban on sweepstakes businesses, which has since led to business closings across the state this week.
Some business owners plan to fight the state ruling and are installing new software the industry claims is compliant with state law. Fish the Net in Wilson has already installed the software and has hired an attorney. State law states that it's illegal to conduct a sweepstakes if the prize is revealed through an "entertaining display." The new software does not include the display.
Sgt. John Slaughter with the Wilson Police Department said that officers have been working with the city attorney and the district attorney in an effort to determine the role of officers in light of the N.C. Supreme Court ruling. No enforcement of the state law is planned at this time, he said.
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