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CAUTIOUS GAMBLE

by Daniel Schere

Winston-Salem considers petition for third sweepstakes establishment in South Park

daniel@yesweekly.com | @Daniel_Schere

The issue of sweepstakes operations has popped up several times on the agenda of the Winston-Salem City Council for the last two months. The discussion has been put off for weeks, and at Monday’s 20-minute meeting council members heard two arguments against putting one in the South Park shopping center on Peters Creek Parkway near the intersection of West Clemmonsville Road.

S & H Investments Group petitioned the planning board in August to have a 1.16-acre site rezoned to HB-L or special use limited in a Highway Business District. This would allow a sweepstakes business to operate legally based on the city’s requirement that new sweepstakes businesses only be located in these areas. It would be the third business of its kind in the vicinity. There is one to the north in a shopping center and another freestanding location to the south.

Planning director Paul Norby gave a brief presentation in which he described the location’s proximity to other sweepstakes locations and outlined the concerns from nearby residents. These include overcrowding, parking issues, increased crime and a negative impact on other businesses.

Council members voted to push the discussion of this sweepstakes site to a future meeting in March 2015. They are scheduled to discuss another sweepstakes site at the corner of New Walkertown and Waterworks Roads in December.

The concentration of sweepstakes businesses has upset a number of nearby neighbors including Carolyn Highsmith, who lives one quarter of a mile from South Park.

“There was a third sweepstakes operation in the shopping center in 2012, and they were all open 24/7,” she said. “And the crime rate at that point just went out the roof.”

Highsmith, a leader of the New South Community Coalition, said they held a public meeting at that time with the shopping center’s managers, police and councilwoman Molly Leight.

“We had to have one of the sweepstakes operations hire a security guard from 11 pm to 6 am, so we have been organized for several years now against the ramifications of sweepstakes operations,” she said. Especially at South Park shopping center.”

Highsmith said she opposes the zoning change because it could drive away business from the shopping center and other residents and business owners. She said she is not entirely opposed to sweepstakes businesses, which she calls “another sanitized version of gambling entertainment.” But she opposed the ordinance that allowed them to operate in Highway Business corridors out of concern that it would lead to concentrations of sweepstakes businesses.

“I knew that it would concentrate sweepstakes in certain areas, especially highway business quarters,” she said. “That’s exactly what’s happening on Peters Creek Parkway in South Winston-Salem.”

Another resident, Jesse Adams also spoke out against the petition at Monday’s meeting.

“You can pronounce potato and tomato different ways but they’re still potatoes and tomatoes,” he said. “You can paint the sweepstakes houses any color you want to, they’re still gambling houses.”

Adams said he also thinks the two existing sweepstakes businesses have led to a decline in business at the shopping center. He urged the council to deny the request.

“There are some things in this society that only God can do something about,” he said. “But in this case as a group you can do something to stop this area from turning into a little Las Vegas.”

Highsmith attended the planning board meetings on August 14 and September 11 along with several others who opposed the petition. At the August meeting, crime and overcrowding were the most common issues discussed. In addition, many residents called for separation standards that would set a minimum distance between sweepstakes businesses.

The planning board found that there are nine cities in North Carolina that regulate sweepstakes operations and all of them include a section that deals with clustering. But they also found that eight cities had no regulations including major cities like Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro and Durham.

At the August meeting, Robert Rollins spoke on behalf of the company bringing the petition. He said there is a sweepstakes business 50 feet from where he is trying to put one in, and its parking lot is only full on Friday and Saturday nights. He suggested the solution of leasing parking spaces from nearby Food Lion if overcrowding became an issue. Rollins also said statistics do not back up claims that sweepstakes businesses are hotbeds for crime or that they are disruptive.

“When you enter one of these sweepstakes facilities, they are quiet like a library,” he said. “The volume on the machines is turned down.

Sweepstakes businesses have become a hot topic for debate in North Carolina over the last few years. Although there is no official law on the books banning these types of establishments, a number of cafes have been shut down around the state, including one at a truck stop off of I-95 in Kenly that was seized by the FBI on May 7. According to the American Gaming Association’s website, café operators claim that their business constitutes free speech “” an idea that was upheld by the state court of appeals in 2012. But this ruling was reversed later that year by the state supreme court in the case Sandhills Amusements v. State of North Carolina.

Attorney Jason Hicks of the firm Womble Carlyle said that game operators in North Carolina have designed systems that comply with these past rulings. Hicks said right now individual municipalities are able to set their own laws as to what kind of internet gaming may take place.

“Some localities have attempted to ban them, some localities have attempted to place zoning restrictions on where they could be located, and some localities have decided to regulate them by issuing licenses just like a special type of business license.” !

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