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Wednesday, 25 July 2012 13:21

Maggie poised to loosen tight sweepstakes cap after all

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Maggie Valley town leaders plan to relax the town’s strict limits on video sweepstakes machines despite the town planning board’s recommendation to maintain the status quo.

Maggie Valley strictly limits the number of the controversial machines a business can have, far more so than any other town in the region. The town was asked to loosen its tough threshold on sweepstakes machines by Jo Pinter, a Maggie resident and owner of Exit Hometown Realty, who wants to rent a vacant office to a sweepstakes operation housing between 30 and 50 machines.

However, under the current law, such an establishment would be illegal.

The planning board voted narrowly earlier this month not to change its regulations after a thoughtful debate over both sides of the issue.

But, following discussions between Pinter, Mayor Ron DeSimone and Alderman Phillip Wight, the board of aldermen have decided to meet with the planning board Thursday to talk about altering the ordinance.

“It seems like it’s worthy of discussion,” Wight said. “It seems totally negative not to try to help people.”

Currently, stores can only house one video gaming machine per 1,000 square feet of floor space. The type of sweepstakes parlors found elsewhere, with rows of the machines packed into a business, aren’t currently legal in Maggie.

Although most of the aldermen support loosening the current standards, there must still be limits.

“I don’t have a problem with it as long as it doesn’t permeate the entire valley,” DeSimone said.

Most businesses treat video gaming as a secondary source of income, with convenience stores typically housing one or two machines, but sweepstakes parlors are cropping up with increased frequency.

DeSimone said the town will likely continue to restrict the number of machines per square foot rather than limiting the number per business.

Town leaders will also need to decide how close two such operations can be from each other, how far video gaming businesses must be from churches or schools and whether it will charge large operations the same license fees that it currently charges other businesses.

Maggie Valley demands $2,500 for the first four machines and charges $750 for each subsequent machine. The town is currently collecting $8,250 a year. If it continues to charge its current rates, that amount would quadruple at the very least.

Wight said that the additional revenue did not cross his mind until he was asked about the possible benefit to the town. “That’s a plus,” he said.

It will be tough for the town to find a happy medium, something that can satisfy people who are both for and against video gaming, said Alderman Phil Aldridge.

“You’ve got people that don’t want it, and those reasons vary,” Aldridge said. “For me, it is hard to tell somebody what to do with their own property.”

However, even if the ordinance is passed, video gaming operations could be shut down next year by state lawmakers, making the whole discussion a moot topic.

The controversial machines have been through an “Are they? Are they not?” legal battle during the past few years as state legislators continue to try to outlaw sweepstakes machines and as proponents of the contraptions continue to find loopholes in the law.

Meanwhile, more and more video gaming establishments continued to crop up along roadsides everywhere.

Towns, seeing a need for regulation, have imposed their own standards regarding how many machines one business can house, where such establishments can be located — and how much businesses must cough up to get a business license for the machines.

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