Supreme Court sees a duck

By Scott Mooneyham | Dec 17, 2012

RALEIGH -- The seven justices who sit on the North Carolina Supreme Court seem to have been imbued with amazing powers.

Unlike some of their colleagues among the state judiciary, the seven  recently recognized that something that waddles, quacks, wears feathers and sports a bill is usually a duck. And people who lay out money, and then lose that money or win more money based on random choices made playing games, are usually gambling.

Put a collar and leash on the duck, and it still isn't a dog.

Make your selections with playing cards, using a slot machine or over the Internet, and gambling still isn't Tiddlywinks.

And like drug use and prostitution, gambling isn't free speech or free expression. The state can, and historically has, regulated it.

The state's high court came to that same conclusion the other day when it ruled that laws passed by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2008 and 2010 to ban video sweepstakes games were not unconstitutional.

The ruling overturned Superior Court and state Court of Appeals decisions that had found the laws banning the games amounted to a violation of free speech rights.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court rejected that notion.

The justices didn't need to look very hard to find a compelling precedent that had all of the characteristics of the current case.

In 1915, the state Supreme Court rejected a similar attempt to dress up slot machines as something other than gambling. The latest opinion begins by quoting that opinion.

"(N)o sooner is a lottery defined, and the definition applied to a given state of facts, than ingenuity is at work to evolve some scheme of evasion which is within the mischief, but not quite within the letter of the definition," the 1915 ruling read.

But that ruling, and this one, concludes that the law should look to "the substance and not to the form" to strip the means of the gambling of its "false apparel."

That wording was apparently lost on the head of an association of Internet sweepstakes operators.

Chase Brooks, an Alamance County Internet sweepstakes business owner, responded to the ruling with the following: "We will look at morphing into whatever we need to be under the rule of law to continue our business."

Morphing is exactly what the operators did in 2006 when state legislators first banned video poker. It is what they did again, with their claims of buying Internet time and pre-selected winners, to get around the 2008 and 2010 bans.

This latest state Supreme Court ruling says, in no uncertain terms, enough of that.

It now tosses the issue back to the lower courts to put the ruling into effect, to get them to look up from the legal parsing and see that the duck is a duck.

Once that happens, those video sweepstakes café owners who continue keeping their doors open will be lawbreakers.

Law enforcement should treat them accordingly.