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N.C. Opinions: Greensboro

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Gamblers lose at high court

From an editorial published in the Greensboro News & Record on Wednesday:

When the chips were down, the N.C. Supreme Court played a winning hand in last week’s sweepstakes ruling.

The timing was good. On Friday, the court issued its first batch of decisions since the election, which featured a hard-fought battle for a court seat in which partisan interests took sides. At stake, observers said, was which party would control the nominally nonpartisan court.

But the seven justices were united in upholding the 2010 law banning video sweepstakes games. The opinion, written by Justice Robin Hudson, was clear, forceful and properly founded on judicial precedent and legislative intent.

For years, the General Assembly has sought to outlaw video gambling in all its permutations. Each time it passed a law, however, the gaming industry devised a new variation that lower courts said did not fall within the bounds of the legislation. The legislature kept trying, plainly stating its intent to ban all forms of electronic gambling, existing or conceivable. Yet, the N.C. Court of Appeals earlier this year said the latest attempt was overly broad and restricted the First Amendment rights of free speech. Nonsense, the higher court said Friday.

A video display doesn’t merely convey entertainment nor issue a message, the court found. It’s a means of gambling. The law doesn’t prohibit speech but instead bans conduct – the act of “placing into operation an electronic machine that conducts sweepstakes using an entertaining display.” The statute is broad, Hudson wrote, but the industry hasn’t demonstrated how an activity other than its gambling scheme is burdened by it. He added:

“Courts have long held that the State’s police power includes the power to address the health, safety and welfare concerns presented by gambling operations, as well as activities that implicate the same concerns, even if they cleverly avoid the traditional definition of gambling.”

Good call. The video sweepstakes parlors cropping up are blights on the landscape. The legislature diligently tried to eradicate them. The Supreme Court put its chips on the side of the law, and its strong, unanimous ruling hit the jackpot.

The views in N.C. Opinions are not necessarily those of the Observer’s editorial board.
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