A Birmingham-based company called National Promotions opened a business with sweepstakes machines last week in northern Calhoun Counthy near the Silver Lakes Golf Course, said attorney Jack Draper, who represents the company. The site was previously used as a bingo hall.
Hundreds of the machines, which are basically mounted desktop computers with specialty software and touch-screens, were lined in rows and ready for use Tuesday. Between 20 and 30 people were glued to the computer screens between 3 and 4 p.m.
Draper said National Promotions is not a sweepstakes business, but instead uses sweepstakes contests to lure in customers to participate in its main operation, which is online bidding for various products. He said the company established a website, www.winandbid.com, that allows customers to bid on many items, from Walmart and Shell gaso-line gift cards to tablet computers.
“Any computer here can be used to access winandbid.com,” Draper said.
When people come into the business, they can purchase a special gift card that will allow them to bid on website items, Draper said. Those who buy the cards also receive chances to play in the sweepstakes to win cash, he said.
“The sweepstakes is used to promote the website and the sale of products on the website,” Draper said. “This is not gambling, it’s marketing.”
A Calhoun County woman at the business Tuesday, who declined to give her name, said she had been there mainly to play the sweepstakes. She said she heard about the business from a friend and was enjoying it.
“It beats having to go to Mississippi or Georgia or another state,” she said, referring to the casinos and other gambling options in those states.
She added that she planned to bid on one item before leaving for the day.
Draper argues that the machines in question are simply another variation of sweepstakes games allowed in Alabama. Typical examples of legal sweepstakes include prizes awarded from the backs of cola bottle caps and the McDonalds’ Monopoly game.
However, the state shut down many businesses that used similar electronic sweepstakes machines several years ago, stating they violated Alabama’s gambling law. In 2006, the Alabama Supreme Court issued a decisive ruling against sweepstakes machine gambling in Barber vs. Jefferson County Racing Association.
The Supreme Court noted that "Alabama's gambling law is not so easily evaded.” It is "the policy of the constitution and laws of Alabama [to prohibit] the vicious system of lottery schemes and the evil practice of gaming, in all their protean shapes.”
Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh has said he considers electronic sweepstakes machines to be gambling machines.
“Sweepstakes, lotteries and bingo all are considered gambling,” McVeigh has said. “Bingo is regulated in the county, but other than paper bingo, all the other items … are illegal.”
Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson declined to comment on whether agency would shut National Promotions down.
“But we are aware of the business’ existence,” Amerson said.
The people controlling National Promotions, who Draper declined to reveal, previously tried to open a business with sweepstakes machines in Oxford earlier this year, Draper said. The business, located on Elm Street by the former Food Outlet next to Sunshine Skate Center, was expected to sell phone time or Internet time and offer sweepstakes to lure in customers. Oxford Police Chief Bill Partridge has said he would shut down the operation immediately if it opened. Oxford Mayor Leon Smith said he would refuse to offer the operation a business license.
Draper said the Oxford location could still eventually open up as another site for National Promotions. The Bingo Palace in Piedmont could also soon have sweepstakes machines as well, he added. The bingo parlor’s address was listed as a National Promotions retail site on the winandbid.com website.
Attempts to reach the owner of the Bingo Palace were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Draper noted that if law-enforcement officials decided to shut National Promotions down, he would sue the state and attempt to prove the legality of electronic sweepstakes machines in court.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star