Jackson sweepstakes violations land on unlikely doorstep
The mayor of Sylva, Maurice Moody, was first to receive a violation notice for an allegedly illegal sweepstakes establishment in one of his rental properties along U.S. Highway 441. And Jackson County Commission Chairman Jack Debman may be next.
During an inspection of the highway’s corridor, county planning officers noticed two roadside sweepstakes parlors, a type of business that is prohibited under the county’s zoning rules for the U.S. 441 corridor, known as the “Gateway” area. The county adopted planning and development guidelines three years ago for the 3.5-mile Gateway leading up to the Cherokee reservation.
There are 41 permitted uses along the Gateway corridor — running the gamut from antique shops to gas stations to bakeries to hotels. But sweepstakes business aren’t on the list, and are therefore not allowed.
Both the sweepstakes parlors along U.S. 441 lease their buildings — and it is the property owners, not the business operators, who received violation notices from the county. Moody is one of those.
Moody said he was not aware that sweepstakes parlors weren’t allowed in the corridor.
“We were under the impression when they put in the sweepstakes machines that we were under compliance,” Moody said. “But if that’s not the case then we will address it.”
Kevin Land, who leases Moody’s building for a sweepstakes parlor called Double Dueces, thinks the sweepstakes business are being excluded from that corridor to give the nearby Harrah’s Cherokee Casino a monopoly on gaming in the area.
Land has been open for just under a year. He wonders why he wasn’t notified before he went to the time and expense of opening, either by the county or his landlord, Moody.
Land said he invested about $70,000 in the sweepstakes machines at his parlor. He has been laying plans to open another sweepstakes operation down the road in a building owned by Jackson County Commissioner Chairman Jack Debnam.
Land said he already signed a lease several months ago with Debman.
He said neither he nor Debman foresaw this conflict when they were signing the lease agreement.
“I told [Debman] I was going to put a sweepstakes machine in there,” Land said. “[Debman] said it wouldn’t be a problem.”
According to Land, that second sweepstakes business has yet to open. Land said he has stalled the project since hearing of the enforcement crackdown from the county planning office.
If not sweepstakes, then signs
Given the revelation that sweepstakes parlors aren’t allowed along the Gateway corridor, Debnam could be spared the irony of having a violation notice handed down by a county employee.
At least on that count. Debnam may be on the receiving end of a sign violation that runs counter to the Gateway development ordinance.
Planning Director Gerald Green said a sign on Debman’s property advertising for Land’s Double Deuces sweepstakes just up the road will prompt a sign violation notice. Signs can’t be placed on one property advertising a business on a different piece of property — an law meant to prevent a proliferation of small-scale billboards.
Green said it doesn’t intimidate him to give a violation notice to a high-ranking local official.
“Everyone has to be treated the same,” Green said.
Green said he hand-delivered the violation notice to Moody. After a violation notice is received by a property owner he or she has 30 days to choose a course of action in response. If no action is taken in over thirty days the owner could begin receiving fines of up to $500 per day, according to Green.
“Within 30 days, they can shut down, file an appeal of my interpretation of the ordinance or request and amendment to the ordinance,” Green said.
Moody, who owns three properties along the corridor, said he hadn’t decided a course of action yet, after receiving the notice five days ago.
He said he may appeal the notice. If Moody asks for an amendment to the ordinance, Green said the Department is obligated to consider the request.
Moody said he isn’t opposed to the type of business Land is running. Moody said although he doesn’t play sweepstakes himself, there doesn’t seem any reason to tell other people they can’t. He also said as a landlord he has never been aware of any problems on the businesses premise.
And if Sunday afternoon was a typical day at the Double Deuces sweepstakes, it’d be hard to picture the clientele becoming too rowdy. A pair of middle-aged women sat quietly and pushed buttons on one of the 50 or so sweepstakes machines and an elderly couple sipped soda and conversed with the employees.
Land’s father, who was playing at one of the machines, expressed his disdain for the violation notice.
“If it’s not illegal, why?” Kenny Land said. “If it were a nuisance and causing problems I would want it to shut down.”
Although Double Deuces doesn’t serve alcohol, the Winners Circle sweepstakes closer to the reservation along the corridor does. They also serve barbecue and hot dogs. Winners Circle prompted the second of the two sweepstakes violation notices issued by the planning department in the zoned corridor.
Employees working at the Winners Circle Sunday did not wish to comment for the article but pointed out their 98-point sanitation score.
Gateway planning rules
The development guidelines for U.S. 441 were intended to protect the five-lane highway from undesirable and unattractive growth. The Gateway area was predicted to become a hotspot for commercial growth in coming years.
Currently, the guidelines are in the revision process, following the election of three new county commissioners last year who are less supportive of the rules than their predecessors. The new ordinance is billed as a compromise that will give prospective developers more flexibility, yet still require basic aesthetic standards. It backs off from some of the more lofty goals of transforming the corridor into a pedestrian friendly boulevard.
After being posed the question about potentially having an illegal sweepstakes business in one of his properties, Debman said he wouldn’t share his personal opinion on the matter. Debman said what happens in the corridor, as to whether or not to allow sweepstakes as a sanctioned business, should be up to the public.
“If the public doesn’t mind, that’s fine with me,” Debman said. “If they don’t want [sweepstakes], that’s fine with me, too.”
Any changes to the development guidelines would ultimate come to the county commissioners for approval. Debman said he would abstain from the vote to avoid a conflict of interest.