Final sweepstakes machines unplugged — for now
IRON DUFF — On Thursday, as hundreds of sweepstakes machines across the country remained dark and turned against the wall, there were two brightly lit exceptions still very much in operation. Sitting under a neon sign reading "Video Games" and topped with empty gas cans, these machines at Sam's Mart on Crabtree Road were thought to be loopholes around the ban that went into effect Jan. 3.
The company that makes the machines, J.M. Brown Amusement, had even installed new devices that company owners thought complied with the new regulations. For a short time at least, it seemed Sam Mart's could be on the cusp of innovation, ushering in a new era or least a new genre of gaming in Haywood County.
But the honeymoon didn't last long.
By the end of the day, the machines were gone, taken away after Maggie Valley Police Dept. Det. Archie Shuler told Sam's Mart that a task force of countywide law enforcement agencies had decided the interpretation of the ban was as simple as no sweepstakes machines with payouts — with no exceptions.
Sam's Mart manager Dee Mintz, however, questions whether this is a done deal. Part of the new law stipulates a sweepstakes machine that is "dependent on skill or dexterity of the player" is an exception to the law. Mintz said a Brown official told her these new machines fit that description — a claim that is taped to the machines themselves.
The new machines are "definitely different" than the ones the store had in the past, Mintz said, though she admitted she doesn't know the complex ins and the outs of the new law. She does know, however, that she won't be getting any machines back until the task force tells her she may.
"They said they weren't going to OK anything, from what I took it," Mintz said.
She wonders if it's the same throughout the state, namely in nearby Jackson County, where Brown Amusement has a few Sylva-based machines. If Jackson has deemed those new machines legal, Mintz is crying foul.
"We can't have one county be different from another county if they're in the same sate," she said.
So far, the sweepstakes industry has remained largely silent on this issue (though it has filed an appeal). Calls to Brown Amusement were not returned by press time, but a statement on its website reads, "Sweepstakes laws vary from state to state but generally they are legal as long as the games are finite. We comply with all laws regarding sweepstakes and are currently running them in select areas."
Whether Haywood County will remain of these areas seems up in the air for now, but it won't change at least one resident's gaming habits. Mintz has never tried the machines and when asked if she ever would sounded pretty sure of herself.
"No," she said, resolutely. "I don't even do the lottery."