Monday, January 28, 2013 —
RALEIGH – It is a remarkable thing about court opinions: If you don’t read them, you might not know what they say.
In fact, you might leave it to those diviners of all things legalese, those modern-day priests with their Latin phrases, the lawyers, to tell you what an opinion means.
Of course, the lawyers might be on the payroll of one side or other of the opinion, and their opinions about the opinion colored by the green in their wallets.
With that in mind, and with some apparent confusion regarding the recent state Supreme Court opinion outlawing video sweepstakes operations in this state, it is worth repeating some of the very plain language our justices used in coming to their conclusion.
Here is some of it:
n “What matters is that the General Assembly has identified a threat to the public and acted to address it. ‘It is well settled that the police power of the state may be exerted to preserve and protect the public morals.’”
n “After careful constitutional analysis, we conclude that (the law) does not violate the First Amendment because it regulates conduct, not protected speech.”
n “Elsewhere in the country, other courts facing challenges to enforcement of similar laws have upheld them precisely because Internet sweepstakes systems have been viewed as gambling in disguise.”
n “Telling a sweepstakes participant that he or she has won or lost is no more protected speech than calling ‘Bingo!’ or ‘21.’”
n “We have ‘strip(ed) the transaction of all its thin and false apparel and consider(ed) it in its very nakedness …”’
The opinion also contains a pile of words devoted to explaining that the state can treat certain types of behaviors, within a range of conduct, differently. So, the state can allow marketing sweepstakes like McDonalds’ scratch-off games, regulate some forms of gambling and ban others.
Somehow, this language doesn’t sound like a court that considers video sweepstakes in North Carolina an unsettled legal question.
You might not know it based what has been said since the ruling took effect last week.
Some video sweepstakes operators said they planned to rework their games, to allegedly separate winning from playing, to get around the ruling.
In Roanoke Rapids, where the city is leasing its boondoggle theater to a video sweepstakes operator, word comes that it has already changed up some machines and that the local police chief is all good with it.
Gov. Pat McCrory said the ban needs to somehow be revisited “because of all the legal maneuvering and interpretations” by the industry.
The only thing that needs revisiting is enforcement of the law.
Sheriffs and local police need to enforce the law, and shut down any establishments that haven’t closed voluntarily. If Roanoke Rapids won’t enforce the law, Attorney General Roy Cooper and the SBI should.
Any kind of lawbreaker – bank robbers, drug dealers or pimps – can claim they have a legal loophole. It doesn’t mean that enforcement of the law stops.
Scott Mooneyham is a syndicated columnist for Capitol Press Association and covers activities of the N.C. Legislature.