Lawmakers close loophole in video poker ban
Governor Bev Perdue is expected to sign a bill passed by the legislature that will ban cyber sweepstakes starting Dec. 1 this year.
Sweepstakes operators in Canton, Maggie Valley, Franklin and other towns who have paid $2,500 or more for a business license fee won’t receive a refund — even though the ban goes into effect midway through the fiscal year.
“A business license is annual,” said Canton Town Manager Al Matthews. “If a business closes after operating for a few months, there is no refund.”
Gas stations, laundromats and other businesses with sweepstakes terminals often house them in exchange for a cut of revenue from the machine owners.
Internet sweepstakes is a form of computer gambling that took advantage of a loophole in the General Assembly’s 2006 and 2008 bans on video poker.
The video gaming industry has adamantly fought against the two bans, filing challenges against the state in court and conjuring up new ways to get around the law.
Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, has long been a strong advocate against video gambling. Rapp said while he hopes this round will be the last against the gaming industry, he’s not overly optimistic.
“I’m not naïve enough to know this will be the end,” said Rapp.
The N.C. Council on Problem Gambling reported that every Gamblers Anonymous Group in the state has increased in size by 75 to 100 percent in the first half of 2009 when sweepstakes games emerged. About 88 percent of new calls to the nonprofit indicated that Internet sweepstakes was the source of addiction.
Ira Dove, director of Haywood County’s Department of Social Services, confirmed that more residents are suffering from gambling addiction than before.
“The cost for them, their families and U.S. taxpayers is severe,” said Dove.
In the N.C. House, the statewide ban passed 86-27 following three hours of back and forth on July 8. State senators had put their foot down more decisively with a 47-1 vote against sweepstakes earlier.
The chief argument centered on whether sweepstakes should be banned outright or whether the state should begin regulating and taxing the industry during a severe revenue shortfall. According to one estimate, regulating video gaming could bring $500 million a year to the state.
The economic argument failed to win Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, who called the ban the single most important legislative action taken by the Senate this year.
“This industry is predatory,” said Queen. “We’re strong in our resolution to stop this scourge on North Carolina.”
Rapp emphasized that the industry was highly exploitative of citizens who could least afford to lose their paychecks.
Police Chief Bill Hollingsed of Waynesville said he has come across gambling addicts who have spent entire paychecks on gambling and those who have opened up fraudulent bank accounts in order to keep playing.
Hollingsed said ever since sweepstakes arrived on the scene, it’s been a confusing issue to tackle for officers who are charged with enforcing the video gambling ban.
“This provides the clear direction we’ve been looking for for several years,” Hollingsed said
Business owners that attempt to secretly house the machines face a misdemeanor on the first offense and a felony on the second.
“We’re serious about it,” said Rapp.
New vote totals mean no runoff for Queen’s Republican challenger
An election night glitch in McDowell County led to some votes being counted two or even three times instead of just once, skewing the results in the Republican primary for a state Senate seat spanning six mountain counties, including Haywood.
The winner remained the same after new vote totals were in, but the second- and third-place candidates switched places. Normally that wouldn’t matter, since the top vote getter is the only one to advance to the fall election.
But in this case, Ralph Hise of Spruce Pine got less than 40 percent of the vote in the primary, which entitles the second place winner to a runoff. When Andy Webb of Marion thought he was that second-place winner, he had called for a runoff. The new second-place winner is Tamara Frank, and she said she won’t be calling for a runoff.
“I have always fought hard against petty politics,” Frank said in a written statement, pledging to throw her weight and energy behind Hise.
Hise, the 33-year-old mayor of Spruce Pine, will take on Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, in the fall.
Frank trailed Hise by 700 votes in the primary. McDowell County’s election glitch happened when transferring electronic results from one computer to another. Results are sent electronically from polling locations to county election headquarters. At headquarters, they are transferred from one computer to another. In that process, votes from some precincts were transferred multiple times.
Webb, who ultimately didn’t fare as well as it appeared on election night, hails from McDowell County.
— By Becky Johnson
Queen to face new challenger
After three straight match-ups with the same Republican challenger, Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, will face a new opponent on the Republican side of the ticket this year.
Ralph Hise, the mayor of Spruce Pine, narrowly beat out two other challengers in the Republican primary for state senate and will take on Queen in the fall. The sprawling mountain district spans six counties, stretching from Haywood up to Mitchell and back down to McDowell, forming a horseshoe.
Queen has served in the state Senate since 2002, taking a two-year break after losing the seat in 2004, but reclaiming it again in 2006. For years, Queen faced off against the same opponent, Keith Presnell of Yancey County, over and over — in 2004, 2006 and 2008. The only year Queen lost in 2004 was marked by Republican sentiment in favor of Bush, a presidential coattails effect that spilled its influence onto state races as well. Years Queen won were all good years for Democrats.
Given the fickle nature of the seat, if a Republican tide manifests this November it could help Hise and hurt Queen.
A 33-year-old native of Mitchell County, Hise would be the youngest member serving in the state Senate. He is already serving his second term as Spruce Pine mayor.
Mitchell County leans heavily Republican, a territory where Queen picked up few votes anyway.
The second runner up, Andy Webb, who trailed by just a slim margin of votes, was from McDowell County, which could have proved more formidable for Queen.
McDowell is the quintessential battleground county. It leans neither Republican nor Democrat, and neither Queen nor his opponents have ever had a home advantage there.
McDowell has been the only “swing” county in the race in past years, but had a candidate from McDowell been on the ballot, it could have proved challenging for Queen.
The toss-up nature of the district required a large and expensive campaign on Queen’s part, spending around $800,000 the past two elections. In his home county of Haywood, Queen took 64 percent of the votes in 2008, and won the district by 54 percent. He took four of the six counties that comprise the district — a marked improvement compared to past victories narrowly eked out.
The six counties comprising the district have markedly different leanings. In Avery and Mitchell, Republicans out number registered Democrats by 8 to 1. It means Queen has to win big in Haywood, his home county, to make up for the known losses to the north.
Queen supporters believe he can pull off a win.
“All his races are tough,” said Chuck Dixon, a Waynesville Democrat and Queen supporter, citing the nature of the district. “He has to work hard for all his votes.”
Dixon said the district is oddly drawn. The state legislature will redraw election district boundaries this term, however, so the party that wins usually gets to draw district lines to its own advantage.
N.C. Senate, 47th district
Republican – one advances
Ralph Hise: 4,965
Andy Webb: 4,610
Tamera Frank: 4,328
*Winner faces off against Democratic Sen. Joe Sam Queen in the fall.
N.C. Senate, 50th district
Republican – one advances
Jim Davis: 5,467
Jimmy Goodman: 3,542
*Winner faces Democratic Sen. John Snow in the fall.
Queen gets early challenger for state Senate seat
A competitive state Senate race appears to be on the horizon once again for Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville.
Andy Webb, a Republican challenger from McDowell County, has gotten a head start by already announcing his candidacy for the 2010 election cycle.
Webb is a three-term county commissioner in McDowell County and has been board chairman for six years.
“I look forward to getting acquainted with the good people of our district in the months to come,” Webb said in a press release last week.
Queen, who is serving his third two-year term in Raleigh, said Webb will have his work cut out for him.
The district spans six mountain counties, sprawling from Haywood County northward as far as Avery and back down to McDowell.
“I can tell you having campaigned in this district, he has a lot of ground to cover,” Queen said. “He may be known in McDowell, but he is unknown elsewhere.”
Queen said he is already established throughout the district as an effective legislator, including Webb’s home turf of McDowell County.
“It is a rare week I’m not in McDowell,” Queen said.
Haywood and McDowell are the two largest counties in the district, and both candidates will be looking to pull down as many votes as possible on their home turf while battling it out in the remaining counties.
Queen narrowly eked out his first victory in 2002. He narrowly lost the seat in 2004, and narrowly won it back in 2006. But in 2008, he won by a comparatively comfortable margin of 54 percent, indicating he had finally begun to establish himself.
The sign-up period for candidates isn’t until early 2010, so it won’t be known for several months whether Webb will face competition in a Republican primary and advance to a final round against Queen. But getting his name out early could help Webb stave off other Republicans thinking of a run.
The past three elections, Queen has faced off with the same candidate, Keith Presnell, R-Burnsville.
Queen said it wasn’t a matter of if there’d be competition, but who the competition would be this year.
“I wasn’t expecting the absence of competition. My district is entirely too competitive to expect that,” Queen said.
Queen spent as much as $800,000 on the race in 2006, making fundraising a significant challenge for what has become one of the most expensive seats in the North Carolina Senate.
Webb said he was deeply concerned about the state’s financial situation.
“Tax and spend budgets year after year; scaring our state and local employees with cuts in critical jobs, starting at the ground level, is unacceptable,” Webb said. “There is more to sound budgeting than growing government through tax increases.”
Queen countered that this year’s budget marks the largest budget reduction in state history. However, Queen acknowledged that there will be plenty of fodder for opponents in this year’s state budget, which not only included budget cuts but tax increases.
“Anybody can pile on in this recession,” Queen said. “I’ll remind Andy which party created this recession. It wasn’t created in North Carolina. It was created from failed national policy, and we are doing the best we can to grow out of this recession and get back to prosperity for all. It will be tough for Republicans to make their case, and he needs to start early.”
Webb criticized what he called “a liberal world view from Raleigh” that is undermining mountain values.
From military campaign to political campaign
If politics makes strange bedfellows, then surely Rutherford Trace offers some curious pillow talk in the legislative halls of Raleigh and Washington, D.C.