Couple looks to install 30 to 50 sweepstakes machines in Maggie

Couple looks to install 30 to 50 sweepstakes machines
By Stina Sieg | Jun 18, 2012

MAGGIE VALLEY — Are video sweepstakes machines a cash cow or a social blight — or perhaps both?

This question can’t help but come up as a local couple looks to open a sweepstakes parlor in Maggie Valley. Former mayor Jo Pinter and her husband, Torry, are hoping to install 30 to 50 such machines in a building they own on Soco Road but are finding push back from a town that only has a handful of these devices within city limits.

That small number, it turns out, is by design. A current Maggie ordinance states that there may only be one video sweepstakes machine per 1,000 feet of commercial space. The Pinters, who may run the parlor themselves or lease it out to another business owner, have already come before the planning board asking for the ordinance to be changed, but the issue was tabled. It should be decided at the board’s next meeting this Thursday. Tens of thousands of dollars in potential tax revue for the town hangs in the balance, as Maggie charges $2,100 for the first four machines and $750 for each additional one.

The Pinters feel the problem here is not with legality but public perception. The machines — which allow users to potentially uncover cash and prizes with mouse clicks if they buy internet or phone time — are legal, but they’ve often had negative associations. Jo Pinter said she doesn’t see why these machines should be regulated so heavily by the town, especially when all other townships in the county have no such regulation. Currently, Waynesville has 112 machines, and Canton has 62. It’s estimated that Maggie only has four.

“Why shouldn’t adults be able to decide what they want to do, is our opinion,” Pinter said.

Comparing the machines to the arcade games children play, Pinter pushed aside fears that these machines prey upon addicted gamblers. This is about giving people something to do, she explained, in a town that sometimes doesn’t have much going on at night. She believes her parlor, which would be alcohol-free and would offer complimentary snacks and sodas, would be a good alternative to the local bar scene. While she knows there will always be outliers, she sounded sure that for the average joe, the parlor would just be enjoyable.

“I’m not saying that some people aren’t going to be stupid,” she said. “If you play it sensibly, it’s just fun entertainment. That’s what it is.”

But not everyone agrees with that. N.C. Rep. Ray Rapp, is one of the most vocal in the area — and the state — against the machines, which he calls a “sweeping contagion.”

“It is socially corrosive to have this proliferation of machines in every community in the state,” he said, explaining that often it’s the most financially vulnerable people who lose the most money playing these sweepstakes.

Rapp, who represents Maggie, admitted the machines are currently legal in the state but thinks this is tenuous. He firmly believes the North Carolina Supreme Court will ban such machines this fall. If it doesn’t, he plans on introducing legislation that would make all sweepstakes illegal. This “nuclear option,” as he calls it, would even take away the kind sweepstakes people play in fast food restaurant campaigns. That’s how committed he is to combatting these machines, which he sees as a destructive form of gambling.

“At least as long as I’m down here in Raleigh, I’m going to keep fighting them,” he said.

Short-term planning

As this battle rages on, Maggie Valley and other towns are left to make their own decisions when it comes to these machines. Recently, about $100,000 was factored into the Waynesville budget for 2012-13 thanks to tax on the gaming devices. Even if they’re outlawed in a few months, the town will still have those funds, though the business owners who invested in them will be out quite a large chunk of change. So, in essence, all business owners who install these machines are doing it on a gamble — one that people like the Pinters are ready to take.

Why not let them? asks Maggie Valley Alderman Mike Matthews. While he doesn’t have a huge opinion about sweepstakes one way or the other, he feels uncomfortable telling people what they can do with their property. He doesn’t like that sweepstakes have no real regulation yet, but believes the Pinters would run their place responsibly.

“I’m sure anything they would do up there would be tasteful,” he said.

Whether the Pinters will get the chance remains up in the air, however. At the planning board’s most recent meeting, it doesn’t seem that many of its members were supportive about the potential addition.

Speaking only for herself, board member Catherine Young explained she simply doesn’t like these machines and doesn’t feel adding many more would be appropriate for her little town. Yes, she admits that adults can abuse many things that are legal, from alcohol to legalized gambling at casinos. But this is one thing that she and the rest of the board can control.

“And I think we pretty much made the decision that this is not appropriate,” she said.