Under the Dome

Another ruling goes in favor of sweepstakes industry

Internet sweepstakes games are still being played on uncertain terrain in North Carolina, where conflicting court rulings and pressure to step up law enforcement are sending mixed messages.

On Thursday, Macon County District Court Judge Donna Forga found a convenience store owner, Michael Berry, not guilty on four misdemeanor charges of operating a sweeps machine at his store in violation of state law.

Earlier this month, a district court judge in Catawba County acquitted a convenence store employee who had been charged after police raided the business.

In December, the state Supreme court upheld North Carolina's ban on the games, but a bill has been introduced that would legalize and clarify the status of the industry, and provide for regulation.

In the Macon County case, the game was developed and produced by a Georgia-based company, Gift Surplus LLC. The game, and the kiosk it's in, markets and sells dollar-for-dollar gift certificates and credits that can be used at the company's website, according to Berry's attorneys. Sales of the cards and credits are promoted with free entry into sweepstakes games that require skill and dexterity, the attorneys say, which makes them legal.

Testimony at the trial indicated the games were lab-tested by one of only three laboratories in the U.S. that certifies the games, Asheville attorneys George Hyler and Steve Agan say in a news release. Testimony also indicated each sweepstakes entry has the same chance of winning and cannot be manipulated.

The attorneys said the game that is used to reveal winning sweepstakes entries was engineered to comply with the exception permitting such games that the legislature created.

Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies are beginning to crack down. Earlier this month, Durham sheriff's deputies raided H&S Internet Cafe, seizing 108 computers and cash, and citing the owner for operating illegal games.

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