Council to mull sweepstakes ordinance today
by David Lazenby
Apr 19, 2011 | 2745 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jasper City Councilor Gary Cowen peruses a roll of instant tickets brought to a recent Council work session by  representatives of Diamond Games. - Photo by: David Lazenby
Jasper City Councilor Gary Cowen peruses a roll of instant tickets brought to a recent Council work session by representatives of Diamond Games. - Photo by: David Lazenby
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A California-based company that recently asked the City of Jasper to loosen its restrictions regarding sweepstakes within the city may already be a winner.

Although Jasper officials have not yet voted on the matter -- which is on the agenda for today's City Council meeting -- at previous meetings several city officials said they agreed that what Diamond Games offers is nearly identical to the sweepstakes promotions used by fast food restaurants and soft drink companies.

"They (Diamond Games) sell these long distance minutes on a device that looks like a credit card," explained city attorney Russ Robertson at an April 4 work session. "As an incentive for their customers, they offer scratch off tickets, not unlike the old 'look under the Coke bottle to see what you've won' and not unlike pulling the tab off the soft drink cup at McDonalds."

Diamond Games representatives were at the April 4 meeting to ask that the Council alter an ordinance enacted in 2006 to shut down "reader machines" used by a different sweepstakes company that Robertson said resembled illegal electronic gambling devices.

"It had the appearance of a slot machine and it was similar to the game that came to be known as electronic bingo," Robertson said. "In 2006 we were really trying to eliminate the reader machines and we adopted the Tuscaloosa ordinance."

Both ordinances forbid immediate cash pay outs at the location where tickets were purchased. The Council is expected to vote today to eliminate that clause from Jasper's city ordinance.

"It apparently makes a big difference to them (Diamond Games officials) as far as the marketability of their product," Robertson said about the cash payouts, that previously could not be collected immediately.

The officials with Diamond Games pointed out that fast food restaurants that offer sweepstakes promotions also reward winners immediately.

More importantly, they pointed out that immediate payout benefits the stores, because money won there is often spent immediately.

However, Robertson said "reader machines will remain illegal if the Council adopts this ordinance."

Also, Robertson said city regulations would still require that the chances to win accompany the sale of a real product or service. Furthermore the city's regulations also state the product being peddled has to be offered at a "fair price."

"In other words you couldn't sell a minute of long distance for $25 then get five pulls (chances to win)," Robertson said.