by Ben Holder

Greensboro’s gamblers took a loss this week when over 60 sweepstakes businesses closed late Saturday night. The businesses ceased operations due to the North Carolina Court of Appeals’ ruling in November of 2014 on the issue of “pre-reveal sweepstakes” and the Greensboro Police Department’s willingness to enforce that ruling.

The ruling prohibits anyone from operating Internet or electronic sweepstakes devices. In 2010, the General Assembly ruled to ban sweepstakes devices but confusion about the law caused North Carolina law enforcement agencies not to enforce it.

The Court of Appeals ruling that “pre-reveal” sweepstakes machines are subject to criminal prosecution gave Greensboro officials greater clarity on how to enforce the laws, police said at the time.

Prior to the Court of Appeals ruling, “pre-reveal” technology was a confusing issue for trial courts around the state, resulting in unequal enforcement in different jurisdictions, police said. The court found no distinction between a “pre-reveal” game and a “post-reveal” game, finding that a game of chance took place no matter when the prize was revealed.

Greensboro Police Chief Anita Holder told YES! Weekly that once the court of appeals ruled to uphold the ban on sweepstakes operations, she decided to give the business owners 90 days to close. “I just felt 90 days was an appropriate time frame to allow those businesses to prepare to close or find another way to make a living,” Holder said.

Now, any person who violates the internet sweepstakes law in Greensboro will be charged with a Class 1 Misdemeanor for the first offense and a Class H Felony on the second offense. The Greensboro Police Department notified sweepstakes operators last December that they would have to close on March 1 or face charges.

Captain Rich Culler of the Greensboro Police Department’s Vice and Narcotics Division reported to YES! Weekly on Tuesday that vice officers believed that 70 sweepstakes businesses were operating in the city during the month of February. However, according to city documents, only 10 sweepstakes locations had business licenses.

When asked about the large number of unlicensed sweepstakes businesses, Greensboro Communications Manager Donnie Turlington said, “There are a number of businesses that are pending and not currently approved because of the sweepstakes moratorium council approved in November 2014. In addition, collections’ has continued to not issue licenses containing sweepstakes sections since police notified businesses in January informing the sweepstakes operators they will begin enforcement on March 1, 2015.”

Yesterday, after police checked the known locations of sweepstakes operations, all but three had voluntarily closed. Police found the East Cone Biz Center operating on Monday and seized sweepstakes machines and devices as well. Police believe that two more sweepstakes businesses are currently operating. “We hope they close on their own but we will shut them down if they don’t because they are in violation of the law,” Captain Culler said.

Arguably, the most popular sweepstakes business in Greensboro was the AiA sweepstakes. Nestled in a shopping center on West Market Street between Royal Discount Furniture and Arabian Nights Hooka Lounge, the AiA Sweepstakes did a lot of business. By providing customers with 24/7 gambling in a clean, yet smoky, environment, AiA was very accommodating to Greensboro’s gambling community.

Last Friday morning, YES! Weekly visited the AiA Sweepstakes, and it was a vibrant atmosphere filled with people of all different races and ages. People go to sweepstakes to win money. There is no other reason to go because that’s all there is to do.

The gambling that is done at the sweepstakes is very much like playing a slot machine because it requires no skill. The only skill involved is to be able to spend money, sign into a computer, pick a game and hit the spacebar to see if you won. One of the games at AiA was called TnT. This game allowed bets as low as $.30 and as high as $3. The amount one bets increases the amount of money that can be won.

At AiA sweepstakes, over 100 computers were readily available for gambling and many times people would have to wait to get a seat. Like most sweepstakes places, AiA offered a drawing on Friday and Saturday nights. Customers could buy tickets for cash drawings that took place during the weekend. The drawings took place at 7 p.m. for $100, 9 p.m. for $300 and 11 p.m. for $500. Customers could buy tickets at $20 each to enter the drawings and big crowds would line up with people holding dozens of tickets hoping to hit the winning number.

When AiA closed on Saturday night, several customers were talking about going to Kernersville and Winston-Salem to play at the sweepstakes located there. AiA sweepstakes operates in Winston-Salem in the same way they operated on West Market St.; 24/7 gambling is still taking place at 3035 Waughtown St. in Winston Salem and many of Greensboro’s gamblers have gone there. !