Electronic gaming operations will likely soon have an official home in the county following discussion amongst the Board of Commissioners during a recent meeting. Board members held off on amending the county zoning ordinance, believing some accompanying development restrictions were too stringent.
Upon a request by Robert Cooper, the Board of Commissioners approved amending the county zoning ordinance to include electronic gaming as a special use with conditions in C-Commercial district. With minimal discussion, the board voted to amend the ordinance to approve electronic gaming as a special use.
However, after concerns were shared about a follow-up zoning amendment that included minimum development requirements for electronic gaming — some believed those requirements were too restricting — the approval action was rescinded upon a unanimous vote and the second matter tabled. Discussion is expected to continue next month.
Commissioners asked what adverse effect would be had with delaying the matter until October.
“There are two establishments located within the county that were operating without permit approvals, so we caused them to close, to shut down operations until we could get a provision in the ordinance,” planning director Rose said. “You would I guess just be extending the time period that these individuals would be awaiting this decision so they can follow the proper channels.”
Those operations are not being fined, but they are also not currently open. Commissioners said they did not want to keep people out of businesses, but wanted to ensure everything was in order. The minimum development requirements were a sticking point.
Those proposed minimum development requirements, as previously approved by the Planning Board, included hours of operation limited to 8 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday and maximum number of gaming machines/terminals set at 30.
According to other minimum requirements, parking must be provided at a minimum rate of one space for every two gaming machines or one for every 100 square feet of gross floor area, whichever is greater. If food or beverage is served, the establishment must comply with the requirements of the Sampson County Health Department; and if the establishment is located within 30 to 100 feet of the adjoining property line of an existing residence, proper screening and buffer must be provided, the proposed requirements state.
The establishment shall be a minimum of 1,000 feet from any other gaming establishment, sexually oriented business, religious institution, school, daycare center/home, library, public park, recreational area or movie theater; and no alcohol shall be served or consumed on the premises of an electronic gaming operation, the other minimum requirements state.
“The special use means they would have to come before the Planning Board with a site-specific use,” said planner Lyle Moore. “This use has recently been brought to our attention, because there was two or three sites being operated for this use, which the ordinance did not allow. We have to allow for it in some way or form in our ordinance.”
Commissioner Jarvis McLamb asked whether electronic gaming was considered a form of gambling. Moore said, the way it has been explained to him, such electronic gaming is little different than scratch-off tickets.
“That’s what I was getting at,” said McLamb. “The lottery is sort of gambling-like. I play the lottery, I scratch off tickets. I don’t go along with all these restrictions, Monday through Friday and 12 at night. It’s no more than the lottery. You might have two stores side by side selling lottery tickets. It’s the same thing. I think some of these items should be pulled out.”
Chairman Billy Lockamy asked why the hours were not extended to Saturday. McLamb specifically took issue with the hours of operation and the maximum number set on the machines. He also called into question location restrictions.
“It just seems to me there are too many restrictions,” he said. “I don’t think they should be restricted any more than any other business, unless it’s near a residence or something like that.”
Commissioner Albert Kirby agreed that some of the development requirements were a little far-reaching, out of the realm of simply promoting peaceful neighborhoods and protecting adjoining property owners.
“If it’s not a violation of law, the only restrictions you are putting on it are those you put on to protect the surrounding residences. In that context, I can understand restrictions to take care of the peace and tranquility of those folks all around them,” said Kirby. “But some, I agree with Commissioner McLamb, that some of them seem to have nothing to do with peace and tranquility.”
Rose said the minimum development requirements proposed were from the city of Clinton’s ordinance for electronic gaming and were presented upon the recommendation of the Planning Board. They could be altered by the Board of Commissioners or not adopted at all, leaving such operations as a special use with the onus being on the Planning Board to add any conditions.
“If you did not adopt any of these minimum development requirements, upon a site-specific plan review the Planning Board can place additional requirements or conditions on a special use permit they deem necessary in order to protect adjoining property owners,” Rose said. “There’s no requirement that you have to adhere to any of these development standards. Even if you don’t adopt these minimum development requirements, you still have a safeguard in place because the Planning Board will be reviewing each on a case-by-case basis as a special use.”
The board unanimously voted to rescind the approval of electronic gaming as a special use in a commercial district, and tabled any action on minimum development requirements. The matter will be continued until the board’s October meeting.
Commissioners said it was not their intention to keep anyone out of business, but rather wanted to ensure everything was in line and equitable for those gaming establishments.
“Let it be known, we are not trying to pick on anyone that has been operating. Everyone has done the right thing by closing down to get this ordinance passed,” said Lockamy. “This is an important ordinance for the county at this time. We’ve all agreed that we approve it, but now there are just some of the requirements we have questions on.”
“There’s no intent to slow anything down,” said Commissioner Jefferson Strickland. “We just want to make sure we’re on sound footing.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.