But the business’ owners beat them to it.
During a press conference this afternoon, Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson said the operators of National Promotions, which opened earlier this month near Silver Lakes Golf Course, had moved out all 700 of their machines Tuesday night and closed down. A sign on the door of the building states the business shut down temporarily so software in the machines could be upgraded.
“It’s interesting, they said their business was not gambling and was not illegal and they were looking forward to a court fight,” Amerson said. “But last night in the middle of the night, they packed up and National Promotions has now left.”
Local attorney Jack Draper, who represents National Promotions, had said he planned to sue the state if the business was shut down so he could prove its legality in court. Attempts to reach Draper today were unsuccessful.
Amerson said he and Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh, who was at the press conference, believed the business was a form of gambling.
“In the last 24 hours, we had been prepared to shut down the facility,” McVeigh said. “We have no other explanation to why they left than the people knew what they were doing was illegal.”
Amerson said he suspected the business operators got wind of the impending shut-down and decided to leave. He said the machines that would have been seized represented hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets for the business.
“If they knew we were coming, that would be a great motivation to load up and leave town,” Amerson said.
Typical examples of legal sweepstakes include prizes awarded from the backs of cola bottle caps and the McDonald’s Monopoly game. However, the state shut down many businesses that used electronic sweepstakes machines similar to National Promotions’ several years ago, stating they violated Alabama’s anti-gambling laws.
“It’s not the same thing,” McVeigh said of the machines. “It’s a convenient excuse to do something illegal.”
The machines were basically mounted desktop computers with special software and touch-screens. Draper had said the sweepstakes games were merely a way to lure in customers to participate in the company’s main business, which is bidding on products through a website called www.winandbid.com. As of 3:15 p.m., the website was still online. The business described bidding sites as being similar to the popular online shopping site eBay. However, unlike eBay, a customer does not get to keep his or her money if he or she loses a bid at winandbid.com, McVeigh said.
“On this program, everybody loses money except for one person who wins,” McVeigh said. “That’s gambling.”
McVeigh said he and the sheriff had known about the business since it first opened, but delayed shutting it down until they were sure enough evidence had been gathered. Sheriff’s deputies went undercover to play the games and gambling experts were consulted, McVeigh said.
“I would expect the voters and taxpayers to assume that when someone says ‘I’m going to sue you,’ we’d be prepared with all the facts,” he said. “I think we have that now.”
McVeigh said that with all the new information collected, if National Promotions or a similar business decides to open up in Calhoun County, it would be immediately closed.
“As soon as the doors open, they will be shut down,” McVeigh said. “I think anyone with common sense knew it was gambling from the start. Now I can prove it.”