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Moratorium proposed on Wilmington sweepstakes cafes

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You've probably seen them cropping up all over town: internet sweepstakes cafes. A Wilmington city councilman is trying to put a temporary ban on the businesses and possibly create restrictions on where and when they can operate.

If you drive down Oleander Drive, it's hard to miss the giant sign advertising a chance to hit the jackpot for Oleander Internet Cafe.

"We got our merchant's license," co-owner Steven Novello said. "We did everything the way that we're supposed to. So we're all about trying to make it so that everybody's happy."

But at least one city councilman is hoping for tighter regulations on the fast growing business.

"We've got too many of these gaming establishments coming in," city councilman Ron Sparks said. "They're called sweepstakes parlors, but in truth, they're just the same old video poker machines that we outlawed years ago."

Video poker has been illegal in North Carolina since 2006. Today there are more than 20 internet sweepstakes cafes in Wilmington. According to councilman Sparks, 15 more are hoping to be licensed within city limits. Sparks is sponsoring a moratorium on sweepstakes cafes in Wilmington to review whether the operations need more regulation.

"Everything from limiting how close they can be to a church, to a school, by limiting what zoning districts they can be in. Now, they can be anywhere," Sparks said.

At the heart of the issue is whether many of these all night establishments attract an unsavory clientele.

"Its not good when you have that kind of operation going 24 hours a day because other elements in this community can find this as a focus for other activities," Sparks said.

"I mean we have people that are in their 70s down to their 20s that come in," Novello, who's business is open until 2 a.m. said. "We have good people here."

The resolution will be presented to city council Tuesday. It's an attempt for the city to review possible changes to current zoning laws. It's a conversation at least one owner welcomes.

"We sit down with the city council and we get on the same side," Novello said. "There's a lot of positive that can come out of these businesses."

Council will review the resolution tomorrow and will hold a public hearing at its next meeting to discuss the issue before any action is taken.

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