Jack Draper, a local attorney who represents Birmingham-based Phone Sweep Promotions LLC, said his client could soon lease its electronic sweepstakes machines in the area.
Draper expects the district attorney to shut down the machines, allowing him to sue and prove the legality of the machines in court.
“These machines are absolutely legal,” Draper said. “Sweepstakes have been lawful in Alabama for years. I plan to sue the district attorney with the intention of proving their legality.”
Draper said his client is planning to lease the machines to a nonprofit organization. However, no deal has been struck and Phone Sweep has yet to apply for any business licenses in the county, Draper said.
Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh, who has spoken with Draper about the machines, said he considers them gambling devices and would have them confiscated.
“Sweepstakes, lotteries and bingo, all are considered gambling,” McVeigh said. “Bingo is regulated in the county, but other than paper bingo, all the other items (Draper) is discussing are illegal.”
Draper argues, however, 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 McDonald’s Monopoly game.
Draper said an establishment with the sweepstakes machines would sell a product, such as phone time or Internet time.
“As an inducement to buy, a customer is given a piece of paper with a code,” Draper said.
He said a customer could take that code to the store cashier and immediately learn if he or she won a cash prize in the sweepstakes. The customer could also type the code into the electronic sweepstakes machine in the establishment to learn if he or she won any money.
Draper argues that if the machines do not have to be used to learn if a person has won a prize, then it is not gambling.
Similar business setups were tried several years ago but the state eventually shut them down.
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, “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.”
“Bottom line, it’s illegal, period,” Alabama Deputy Attorney General Sonny Reagan said in an email to The Star. “A gambling enterprise that tries to backdoor illegal slot machine gambling under the guise of a sweepstakes will not work.”
When confronted with this decision, Draper said he agreed with it, but added his client would not be leasing machines to operations like what was done in Jefferson County.
“You have to be selling a legitimate product in order for it to not be a sham,” Draper said.
McVeigh said if Draper were to sue him, he likely would not handle it himself.
“If a suit involving gambling was filed, we would ask the attorney general to step in and defend it,” McVeigh said.
Reagan said the attorney general’s office would likely assist in such a case.
“The Attorney General has taken all of the cases created by the Governor’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling from Governor Bentley pursuant to Executive Order No. 1,” Reagan said. “Beyond that, the Attorney General has worked with District Attorneys in several counties over the past year in a number of cases involving illegal gambling.”