RALEIGH — A unanimous N.C. Supreme Court has issued another ruling against video sweepstakes operators.
“Gift Surplus, LLC, and Sandhill Amusements, Inc., (plaintiffs) sued Governor Roy Cooper and several state law enforcement officials (defendants) seeking a declaratory judgment that their operation of a sweepstakes through video game kiosks does not violate … North Carolina’s criminal prohibition on certain video sweepstakes,” wrote Justice Robin Hudson. “This case presents the third time plaintiffs have appeared before this Court seeking to avoid liability under North Carolina’s ban on video sweepstakes.”
“The question presented here is whether plaintiffs’ new game, as modified since plaintiffs last appeared before this Court, is not ‘dependent on skill or chance’ and is thus criminalized,” Hudson added. “After ‘inquir[ing], not into the name, but into the game, however skillfully disguised’ of plaintiffs, we hold that chance predominates over skill in plaintiffs’ new game and, accordingly, that this game is a game of chance that violates the sweepstakes statute.”
The General Assembly banned video poker and other types of video gambling in 2006. Further legislation in 2010 focused on video sweepstakes. Each time lawmakers have acted, and each time courts have ruled against sweepstakes operators, those operators have adjusted their equipment.
The latest adjustments did not convince Hudson and her colleagues that the machines are now legal. “Contrary to the trial court’s conclusion that plaintiffs’ games involve skill and dexterity, we cannot conclude based on the undisputed record evidence that skill and dexterity have any more than a de minimis role in plaintiffs’ new games,” Hudson wrote.
“[C]hance controls plaintiffs’ game by determining that in 75% of turns, players will not be eligible to play for the top prize and, indeed, cannot play for anything more than mere cents,” she added. “Accordingly, just as is the case with a traditional slot machine, the return to the player in plaintiffs’ game is dependent on chance.”
The court ruled with a 5-0 vote. Justices Phil Berger Jr. and Sam “Jimmy” Ervin IV did not consider the case.