When North Carolina lawmakers return to Raleigh for a special legislative session this week, they should quickly pass a bill supported by statewide law enforcement and family advocates to help rid our state of the scourge of illicit video gambling parlors in North Carolina.
Among other provisions, House Bill 577 would clearly outlaw sprawling electronic gambling venues, often called “big rooms.” These industrial-scale gambling warehouses are often dens of poverty, desperation, crime, and gang activity, and they must go.
The bill would make it a Class G felony for anyone to “operate or place into operation” more than four electronic gambling machines, reinforcing existing state gambling laws and giving law enforcement agencies a new tool to combat video poker and electronic-sweepstakes operations proliferating across our state.
The N.C. Family Policy Council, N.C. Sheriffs’ Association, and other policy organizations strongly support the bill.
With broad support, the bill passed the N.C. Senate 38-8 as time ran out at the end of the regular 2017 legislative session. The bill is among those expressly eligible for consideration by the N.C. House when lawmakers return on Oct. 4, and swift passage should be an easy call – one all responsible citizens and political leaders should support.
North Carolina’s sheriffs see first-hand the criminal activity that video sweepstakes parlors invite and the harm they cause for our citizens and their vulnerable families. Decades of research clearly show the undeniable link between gambling and increases in crime, theft, divorce, domestic violence, child abuse, personal debt, bankruptcy and even suicide. Our many and varied houses of worship in this state often confront these devastating impacts as they seek to serve parishioners and their loved ones who have been victimized by illegal gambling.
Failure to enact HB 577 now can only lead to more headlines like these recent news stories:
▪ “Security guard fatally shoots armed intruder at Concord (sweepstakes) business” – Charlotte Observer (6/1/2016);
▪ “Man fired shot while robbing Charlotte sweepstakes business” – Charlotte Observer (3/7/2017);
▪ “Shots fired at Raleigh sweepstakes bar” – WRAL Raleigh (9/10/2017);
▪ “Money Trail: Cumberland County probe of gambling cafes uncovers possible terrorist ties.” – The Fayetteville Observer (3/19/2016)
And if this were not enough, gambling profiteers have raised the alarm about the impact of this bill: “This is a very serious development and must be taken as URGENT!” a North Carolina gambling machine vendor recently warned its customers, seeking funds to hire a lobbyist in hopes of killing HB 577. “Please be aware this development is VERY serious. We MUST get everyone involved at EVERY level. GET INVOLVED or be sorry later!”
But in reality, it is the State of North Carolina and our families that will be sorry if HB 577 is not enacted into law. Our state lawmakers shouldn’t gamble with North Carolina’s future. For the good of all, they should quickly pass the bill when they reconvene this week.
John L. Rustin is President and Executive Director of the North Carolina Family Policy Council.