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Spring Hope boosts electronic gaming limit

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Spring Hope has no problem with increasing the number of electronic gaming machines, town officials decided — just don’t play them on Sundays.

In a flurry of 3-2 votes, a divided Board of Commissioners on Monday approved a requested text amendment to the zoning ordinance that allows an electronic gaming business operating in Spring Hope to double the amount of permitted machines from 20 to 40.

But by another 3-2 vote, the board also rejected a request to allow such businesses to open on Sundays.

The request was made by Steve Batchelor, who was granted a special-use permit in March to open a gaming business in the old Batchelor’s Tavern building on East Nash Street with 20 machines after the town amended the ordinance to allow electronic gaming in non-residential zones under a list of conditions and to increase the number of machines from 10 to 20.

Batchelor discovered after opening he did not have enough machines to make good use of space in his building or a variety of machines necessary to satisfy some customers. So he applied for another text amendment increasing the number of machines to 40 and allowing him to open on Sundays from 2-10 p.m.

The planning board recommended approval of the request, but after being warned during the public hearing that their decision would affect all electronic gaming businesses, not just one, and that the increase was a major expansion beyond what the town first envisioned, commissioners took a harder look at the request.

Most of the commissioners said they didn’t have trouble with allowing 40 machines, though Commissioner Ricky Tucker warned the increase was “a slippery slope” that could lead to even more machines.

But the idea of opening up gaming to all seven days of the week did not go over well.

“My personal concern is that Sunday is not the right time to be open,” said Commissioner Brent Cone. “We do live in the Bible Belt.”

Commissioner Drew Griffin thought the proposed 10 p.m. closing was too late and made a motion to amend the ordinance to increase the number of machines to 40 and limit Sunday hours from 2-9 p.m.

But only Tucker and Griffin voted in favor of the motion. Commissioners Cone, Nancy Walker and Brenda Lucas cast the deciding votes against it.

In a succession of motions immediately afterward that increased the number of machines but did not provide for Sunday hours, Cone joined Walker and Lucas in voting for the change, leaving Griffin and Tucker in the minority.

The amendment takes effect immediately. No other conditions were changed.

Sweepstakes centers provide patrons with an opportunity to win cash or prizes by playing electronic terminal games. Operators say the games are legal because they operate on software that differs from video poker and similar games North Carolina has previously outlawed.