A closer look at the growing industry of sweepstakes parlors in Wake County

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Local law enforcement admits sweepstakes parlors have become targets for violent crimes. Investigators said it’s because of the large amounts of cash they keep on hand and the late night hours.

Yet by some estimates there are more than a hundred of them in Wake County and the number continues to grow.

They go by different names – sweepstakes parlors, internet cafes or business centers.

Cumberland County banned them, so has Burlington and Greensboro.

“We in the casino on Avent Ferry Road by the DMV and we got a robbery… Two guys came in here with masks on and was shooting. Everybody all right, y’all?” the 911 call from a sweepstakes robbery back on March 17th.

Back in November, CBS 17 introduced you to a wife and mother who’d been shot following a robbery outside another one of these businesses, the Blue Room on South Saunders Street.

“She was really terrified. There were all sorts of things running through her mind at the time,” the woman’s husband said.

CBS 17 reached out to the Raleigh Police Department and the state, hoping to get a specific list of sweepstakes parlors in the city. Turns out they don’t keep a record of them. They don’t have to be licensed.

CBS requested calls for service for the last six months for 11 of these businesses. Each had dozens of calls from break-ins to disturbances to assaults.

“For years we’ve heard that the sheriffs are getting complaints from their law abiding citizens, complaints from family members,” Eddie Caldwell, theExecutive Vice President and General Counsel for the NC Sheriffs’ Association said.

But cracking down on them is harder than you might think.

“If its a pay to play game and you’re wagering credits, betting on several hands of play and there’s an element of chance involved in the game and they’re paying out cash payouts for credits won on the game than it would be an unlawful gaming operation,” Chris Poole, the head of the state’s ALE Gaming Unit said.

He said games of chance are illegal and that businesses often try to go around the law by arguing there’s a component of skill involved.

“If you have a game of chance and then add a component, that you’re saying there’s skill, that does not make that game of chance legal in North Carolina,” Poole said.

“They have to go in undercover, play the machines. They have to be equipped with necessary equipment to video what the machines are doing. Because the DA needs that to prosecute the case,” Caldwell said.

It takes time and resources. On the state level, Poole only has four agents.

“There’s no regulation done on any of these sweepstakes parlors or gaming locations,” Poole said.

The manager of the Arcade, a sweepstakes parlor off Spring Forest Road agreed to speak with us if we didn’t identify him.

“People might look at this and say you’re taking advantage of people. That there’s no real oversight over these places?” our Amy Cutler asked him. “Would you say that could be said about a car dealership too,” he responded.

CBS 17 stopped by several of these businesses. We found most have free drinks and food. They keep the windows tinted, much like a casino. One even had free wine for members.

Poole also points out that since they’re not regulated, there’s no way to ensure the revenue the businesses take in is taxed.

CBS 17 also reached out to Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman for perspective.

“The iterations of the types of games that are played in these parlors changes constantly and so the amount of money that is to be made from sweepstakes industry and these gaming companies is such that they are constantly working to create new games and different games. Such that what we may go in and say today is illegal they may be playing something totally different tomorrow,” Freeman said.

Freeman said if they have an investigation that they believe will stand up in court, they’ll pursue it.

In the meantime, she said local law enforcement’s focus remains on stopping violent crimes around sweepstakes parlors and not shutting down the businesses themselves. 

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