University City

City drafts rules for parlors

Charlotte's planning department has drafted rules for so-called internet cafés and sweepstakes parlors, which now have a noticeable presence in some Charlotte neighborhoods.

Under the proposal, sweepstakes operations could be no larger than 3,500 square feet and would be permitted only in certain districts, including areas zoned for general business and as commercial centers.

No more than one sweepstakes parlor could operate within 400 feet of another, if the draft were approved by the Charlotte City Council.

City planners have asked a citizen advisory committee and neighborhood leaders to comment on its draft by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

N.C. law prohibits use of electronic machines or devices, including video poker or bingo games, for conducting or promoting sweepstakes through "an entertaining display."

Despite the state's attempts to gain control, some sweepstakes games are legal, while it's possible that others cross the line.

North Carolina laws have sometimes proved inadequate to allow police to step in.

With internet cafés popping up in aging strip malls and other properties around the country, municipalities are finding creative ways to regulate them.

Concord, Kannapolis and Fayetteville have adopted zoning rules to limit where such businesses can operate.

Charlotte's approach is similar, although planners still must make a formal recommendation to city council and win approval in a vote.

The zoning amendment drafted by the city would apply to businesses where cash, merchandise or other items are redeemed or otherwise distributed for games or similar sites, whether free or by purchase.

The business might use computers or other devices or software provided by the business or patrons to access games or similar sites.

City planning staff members counted 69 businesses in Charlotte in May last year that they believe are sweepstakes operations.

About 25 were clustered in the western part of the city, but they also turned up in other areas.

Their numbers continue to grow.