LUMBERTON — While some municipalities mourn the loss of revenue generated by now outlawed gaming establishments, Lumberton’s City Council is considering new restrictions in case regulations against those businesses are rolled back.
In anticipation of the June 10 expiration of a citywide moratorium on sweepstakes cafés, the council is considering several zoning measures that would regulate gaming establishments.
Pending approval from the Planning Board, the council will consider the measures at its Wednesday planning conference. The council is expected to vote on the measures at its April 15 meeting.
“The moratorium is not to punish this industry,” Councilman Erich Hackney said. “It was only put in place to give the legislature and the courts time to figure out how to proceed. At least that’s why I pushed for the moratorium.”
Before the moratorium went into effect in 2010, Lumberton billed out about $624,000 in privilege licenses and other fees for gaming establishments, according to Linda Oxendine, director of Public Services. In May 2010, there were 46 known gaming establishments in the city.
During 2013, the city brought in about $380,000 in revenue from 18 establishments before the state Supreme Court decided Lumberton’s fees — $5,000 for a privilege license and an additional $2,500 for each machine — were unreasonable.
Following that court ruling, the city has stopped issuing privilege licenses and is not collecting revenue from the few gaming operations open in town, City Manager Wayne Horne said. Following a directive from District Attorney Johnson Britt, law enforcement officials are working to shut the businesses down.
Hackney said until the state makes cyber-gambling legal, discussing how to handle legal sweepstakes cafes is pointless.
“I would rather the town obtain their money legally than support an industry that has been deemed illegal by the North Carolina Supreme Court,” he said. “… [Municipalities] either abide by the law or they don’t and if they don’t, they should suffer the consequences.”
The council could vote to extend the moratorium, but former City Attorney Rob Price says courts are suspicious of moratoriums in effect longer than a year because they are intended to be temporary measures while a more permanent solution is determined.
While the moratorium has cut down on the number of sweepstakes cafes in Lumberton, some companies have managed to find loopholes in the law.
Lumberton’s proposed zoning measures would require a company to obtain a conditional-use permit — which has a $250 application fee — and would limit such businesses to three of 18 zoning districts.
Hours of operation would be limited to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, although Councilman John Cantey asked that Sunday hours of operation be further reduced or banned entirely. Hackney questioned the 40-machine limit, saying it is too generous. No one under the age of 18 would be permitted to play.
Parking lots, which must be lit during business hours, would be required to have one parking space for every 200 square feet, plus an extra three spots. The business must be visible from its main entrance.
In addition, an electronic gaming establishment could not be located within 500 feet of another gaming operation, a residential zoning district, a single-family residence, a place of worship, daycare centers or schools, a government building, a public park, playground or library, an adult establishment, a group care facility or a cemetery.
If a business violates any of those requirements, it would have to pay up to $500 civil penalty per day per violation and could face misdemeanor charges.
Hackney said the measures are business as usual.
“There’s a variety of things that we limit with respect to how close they can be to one other … we’re not just picking on them,” Hackney said.