Judge seals records of raids on sweepstakes parlors

pseligson@newsobserver.comMay 19, 2014 

A federal judge has sealed an investigation that led to multiple raids this month on Internet sweepstakes parlors in Johnston County.

On May 7, N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement agents raided at least two Internet sweepstakes parlors in Johnston County. The two were Big Boys Internet Sweepstakes in Kenly and 7Up Internet Cafe on South Bright Leaf Boulevard in Smithfield. Agents seized the Internet sweepstakes machines and confiscated money too. Other news outlets reported similar raids in Goldsboro and Selma.

The Smithfield Herald contacted the U. S. Department of Justice for comment. Don Connelly, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Eastern North Carolina, said he couldn't comment on the investigation, noting that a federal judge had sealed the case.

When asked why a judge might have sealed the case, Connelly said he could speak only generally and not on the Johnston County raids. “Cases are sealed based upon the request of this office when there are law-enforcement reasons for doing so,” he said. “When publicity will jeopardize the investigation or the safety of those involved are a couple of the reasons why the Judge will seal a case.”

Connelly said the department has no way of knowing when a judge might unseal the case.

Internet sweepstakes parlors operate in a hazy legal area: North Carolina banned the parlors in 2010 because they were home to games too similar to casino-like gambling. The state’s Supreme Court later upheld that ban.

Since the Supreme Court’s decision, many parlors in North Carolina have closed. But others have remained open, saying they have tweaked their games to comply with state law. Those parlors appear to be betting that law enforcement agencies won’t enforce the ban. In Johnston County, at least, parlors appear to have lost that bet.

In Smithfield, the town collects privilege license-taxes from Internet sweepstakes parlors: $2,500 per parlor and $250 for each machine. This year, the parlors paid about $30,000 to the town.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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