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Charlotte may regulate Internet gaming businesses

Published: Jun. 21, 2011 at 2:33 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 21, 2011 at 2:47 AM EDT
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Despite repeated attempts to ban them, internet sweepstakes businesses have not only survived but are popping up all over Charlotte.

Now the city council wants to explore whether it's time to start regulating them.

At Monday night's city council meeting the city released a map showing that there were 69 sweepstakes businesses operating in Charlotte as of last month.

The map shows 13 over a four mile stretch of South Boulevard, as well as clusters in West Charlotte, East Charlotte, Northeast Charlotte, and Steele Creek.

State lawmakers passed a bill that was intended to ban such businesses last year, but the businesses appear to have found a loophole.

The businesses say they've made their games internet based, and you don't pay directly for the chance to win money but rather indirectly.  They say their games are similar to when you buy a drink at McDonald's and it's got a game of some kind on it where you can win free food.

But police and critics are skeptical, and say these businesses concern them.

"We're always concerned whenever somebody brings a business in that could negatively affect someone's ability for good quality of life," said CMPD Major Eddie Levins.  Levins says since the businesses deal in a lot of cash, they create opportunities for criminals looking to rob someone.

WBTV went along with police on a raid of some sweepstakes businesses two years ago.  Soon after a judge ruled the businesses were legal.

Police are currently under another judge's order that prevents them from going after the businesses.

There is a battle in the courts over whether the law attempting to ban sweepstakes businesses was constitutional.

But in the meantime the businesses are also using the loophole to keep operating.

And some folks think they should be allowed to keep operating.

"I've seen no commission of a crime, I've seen no contemplation of a crime of any kind," said one customer of his experience at the sweepstakes businesses.  "I don't think it's necessary for [the city council] to do anything.  If it's not broke, why attempt to fix it?"

Some on the city council seemed skeptical of the need to regulate the internet gaming businesses as well.

Republican Andy Dulin questioned if it was really all that different from playing the lottery.

The city plans to research the issue further, including taking a look at what connection gaming places may have to crime.

They'll then decide whether to use new zoning regulations or other methods to put restrictions on internet sweepstakes businesses.

Copyright 2011 WBTV. All rights reserved.