Detectives seize video sweepstakes machines
The saga continues in the video sweepstakes machine "legal or illegal" quagmire after a multi-agency investigation led to the seizure of dozens of games from two Haywood establishments Wednesday.
The Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, in conjunction with the Waynesville Police Department, served two search warrants on business establishments outside of Canton and Waynesville believed to have been housing electronic video gaming machines in violation of state laws.
The first search began around 8 a.m. at an inconspicuous cinder block building at 1190 Asheville Highway in Canton. The business had no name and no signs labeling it as a sweepstakes business, said Sgt. Det. Tyler Trantham with the Waynesville Police Department.
"It had bed sheets and shower towels hanging over the windows," he said.
Detectives seized 17 sweepstakes machines from the store and moved on to the Lucky Horseshoe at 1659 South Main Street in Waynesville, where 17 more machines were seized.
Some people were inside the store playing the games when law enforcement arrived to conduct the search warrant, said Waynesville Police Chief Bill Hollingsed.
A total of 34 machines were seized from the locations, as well as U.S. currency and related business records.
The investigation was prompted by numerous complaints to law enforcement from citizens throughout the county concerned about illegal video gaming and the "negative impact it has had on the community," according to a press release from the Sheriff's Office.
Hollingsed said undercover officers played the games at both locations several times before conducting the search warrant this week.
"They found that they were illegal based on the definition of North Carolina gaming statutes. These machines were clearly card-based poker and keno games," he said.
It's widely known that other video sweepstakes games are located in convenience stores across the county, but Hollingsed said these two businesses were targeted for a reason.
"They were large, stand-alone operations. That's the only thing they did at these facilities was sweepstakes," he said.
Hollingsed said the law states that it can be a felony if a business operates five or more illegal sweepstakes games.
“Regardless of personal feelings about gambling, North Carolina statutes deem these games to be illegal,” said Hollingsed. “Law enforcement cannot pick and choose which laws to enforce.”
No arrests have been made at this time, but individual cases are being forwarded to a Haywood County Grand Jury.
The multi-agency investigation was conducted by a special team known as the Unified Narcotic Investigative Team (UNIT), which is made up of detectives from each county law enforcement agency. Though the team focuses on combatting the county's drug issues, they were asked to pull their resources and assist in this investigation because it involved multiple jurisdictions, Trantham said.
The investigation into the cases is ongoing.