When will the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office enforce existing State Laws governing the video poker industry? According to NHSO Sgt. Butch Morgan, the man in position of enforcing the laws in the county, never. He says it is a waste of time and money. "There is no way to enforce it, it should have been totally banned." he said, "If you want to give me $500 I will look into it, we just can't afford to enforce it." In the conversation I had with him over 2 years ago, Sgt. Morgan told me that a woman called him to report that her husband had lost all their money at an establishment and he told her, "Tell him to come in and see me and I will arrest him for gambling, that's the best I can do, it's a crime to gamble, people should know better."
But these video poker "speakeasies" are committing crimes by paying out more than the $10 in merchandise the law says is the maximum payout to the winner. Sheriff Moose Butler knows this, Sheriff Chris Batten knows this, Sheriff Carson Smith also knows this as does Sheriff Ron Hewitt but obviously Sheriff Sid Causey does not get it, although he did make a stab at getting some news just after the robbery and shooting at the video poker "speakeasy" on Cinema Drive last year, however there was no mention of arrests.
The State Law requires each machine to be registered in the county Sheriff's Office. In the latest registration log I received from the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office I found that Port City Pawn at 1818 Oleander Drive has six machines registered there. This is against the law. The law only permits a total of three at any location. Yet according to the Sheriff's Office there are 6 located in one spot. I guess they overlooked it, just like they have overlooked the 6 machines at Long Leaf Mall's Sun Cruz where they used to use two addresses, one as being on Shipyard Blvd. and the other as being on S. College Road now they brazenly use one address.
It is also against the law to have the machines hidden away, according to State Law the machines have to be visible from the front door. Most of these "speakeasies" have the machines hidden behind false walls or behind closed doors. Easy pickings for an aggressive act of enforcement.
But according to the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office, there isn't enough money to enforce the laws. In fact they are asking the commissioners next week for a raise, a substantial raise in their already inflated budget. The New Hanover County Sheriff Office Budget is one of the most, if not THE most costly Sheriff Offices in the State. So how much money do they need to enforce the laws? You will have to ask Sheriff Causey. And when you ask him also ask him if enforcing the laws against Jerry Huene, owner of Jerry's Furniture Refinishing II at 17th and Market, ask him if doing so would have saved the life of Reginald Dent.
Dent worked at Jerry's at 17th and Market St. and when he was confronted with a robbery, he grabbed his gun and challenged the robber who then shot and killed Dent, the father of 3, in the parking lot. Reginald Dent, like Joseph Daggs III an employee of another Jerry's located on Cinema Drive, were both convicted Felons and should not have been in possession of a firearm. Daggs confronted 26-year-old Brian D. Rivenbark as he attempted to rob him on June 23rd and shot and killed by Rivenbark in the street. (An interesting note is that a month earlier Officer Crumpler, an alert Wilmington Police Officer, noticed during an investigation that Rivenbark was a convicted sex offender out of Pender County but living in Wilmington in violation of the law regarding sex offenders. Crumpler arrested Rivenbark and yet the Sheriff's Office did not persue charges against Rivenbark for failing to register. SEE OTHER BLOG ABOUT HOW NEW HANOVER COUNTY LEADS THE STATE IN SEX OFFENDERS THAT HAVE FAILED TO VERIFY THEIR ADDRESS)
Imagine if one of those bullets fired by the murderer of Reginald Dent were to have struck a passing car or a customer at the nearby Shop and Go. Imagine how dangerous it is to have an office or business next door to such places.
May 4th when Michael and Barbara Waguespack of Cumberland County had their company Funtime Amusements shut down by County, State and Federal Agents that raided numerous businesses and homes, seizing at least 100 video poker machines and $1 million in loose cash. Money found in the home of the Waguespack's. Ricky Godwin was arrested in Smithfield and turned over $5 million in gambling profits and more than 300 video poker machines. In 2004 the Wilmington Lodge No. 532 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks was fined $500,000 for illegal video poker machines. The lodge paid cash winnings to video poker players in excess of the $10 limit allowed under state law, U.S. Attorney Frank Whitney said. Garland Garrett Sr. was an officer, trustee and "Exalted Ruler" of the lodge. He was also owner of Cape Fear Music Co. He and his son, Garland B. Garrett Jr., a prominent Democratic Party fund-raiser and former state transportation secretary, were charged with distributing video poker machines that paid out higher cash awards and sharing the proceeds. Cape Fear Music Company is now a part of Atlantic Amusements- owner Anthony Todd Sutton, also owns Sutton Amusements located at 436 Raleigh St B Wilmington, NC 28412-6367 (910) 796-0033 Atlantic Amusements owns over 150 video poker machines currently in operation in New Hanover County. US Federal Court sentenced Garland Garrett Jr. to five months in federal prison and was ordered to pay a $750,000 fine after pleading guilty to operating an illegal gambling business. His son, Garland "Trey" Garrett III, was sentenced to two years of probation and 120 hours of community service after pleading guilty to the same charge. He agreed to testify against his father and ailing grandfather.
There is a lot of money in video poker machines that operate illegally. In my investigation I found that machines can rent for $800 a month however most machines are actually placed in the business and take a split of the receipts. One bar I visited told me how their three machines pay all of their overhead, lights, rent, bartender. It is not uncommon to open up and machine and find more than $2,000 sitting inside. When Marc Benson seized machines from the Worsley Truck Stop on 421 he found that much and more inside after a few days of operation. Of course most of the proceeds of such seizures go to the school system.
It will be interesting to see if anyone begins to crack down on these "speakeasies" before new legislation outlaws them. We know House Speaker Jim Black at one time did his best to block the Senate's ban and to support the video poker industry, as did New Hanover County Representative Thomas Wright. Black said in defense of the illegal businesses "Video poker creates jobs in North Carolina. ". Well so do illegal drugs, I bet there are 500 or more drug dealers in Wilmington making a comfortable living in New Hanover County, maybe that's why Sheriff Causey never made it a big issue to enforce the laws against drug dealing either. Economics. Drug dealers buy things like cars and electronics just like those making money illegally operating video poker establishments. Maybe Sgt. Morgan is right, the Sheriff can't afford to enforce the laws, it just might hurt the local economy. Pitiful don't you think?