Lottery and Gambling Offenses in North Carolina

In North Carolina, lotteries and gambling related activity are heavily regulated, and only legal under some circumstances. If you happen to be involved in an illegal lottery or gambling operation, even in a fairly small way, you could potentially face criminal charges. While most of these charges are misdemeanors, the consequences of a conviction could be serious if you do not get help from an experience defense lawyer. The lawyers at Polk Law have the experience and skills needed to get the best results for these kinds of cases.

Regulations on lotteries and gambling can be quite detailed and confusing. If you would like to understand whether your activity is a legal or could get you in trouble, read further. 

Dice being tossed, as part of a gambling game

Lottery Offenses

To put it simply, a lottery is a means of raising money by selling numbered tickets and giving prizes to the holders of numbers drawn at random. You may not think any lottery could be illegal, since we see lottery tickets in every gas station and many organizations host lotteries. However, these lotteries are only legal in accordance with North Carolina laws and exceptions. If you conduct or are involved in a lottery that is not permitted to conduct a lottery, you can face criminal charges.

When is a Lottery Legal?

The following people or groups can conduct a lottery or raffle:

  • non-profits (no more than four per year)
  • political candidates
  • political committees
  • any government entity within the State
  • federally recognized Indian tribes

Does this mean that all those lottery tickets you can buy in gas stations or at some local pubs are illegal? Usually no, because the actual lottery operators, such as the Carolina lottery, are run by a government or non-profit entity. Many businesses can host legal lotteries, but most cannot operate their own unless they meet some exceptions.

There are also regulations on cash prizes that can be offered. The maximum cash prize that may be offered is $125,000, or $250,000 for non-profits. If the prize is merchandise that is not redeemable for cash, the maximum fair market value may be $125,000. If the prize is property, it maximum appraised value cannot be over $500,000

Illegal Lottery Offenses

The punishment for operating an illegal lottery is a class 2 misdemeanor which may include a fine up to $2,000. There are a few ways you can be considered to operate an illegal lottery, or be involved enough to be criminally charged:

  • Advertising an illegal lottery, where you share information such as how when and where it will be, the prizes, ticket prices, and how to get tickets.
  • Create and operate an illegal lottery
  • Helping or being an agent in assisting with the operating of an illegal lottery
  • Knowingly possessing illegal lottery tickets
  • Selling illegal lottery tickets

Gambling Offenses

Gambling, under North Carolina statutes, refers to participating in or operating a “game of chance” where people bet on money, property, or anything of value. This crime is punished as a class 2 misdemeanor.

The definition of “game of chance” is rather confusing, but it is understood that this law does not apply to lotteries and raffles as discussed previously, or to lawful bingo games.

Understanding a "Game of Chance"

In a game of chance, “chance” is what determines the outcome of the game, dominating the element of skill. There’s a great deal of controversy surrounding this discussion because many such games do require some knowledge and skill. However, under North Carolina law, the following have been considered games of chance:

  • Any card game
  • Poker
  • Blackjack
  • Dice games
  • Video Poker
  • Some electronic game machines
  • Horse racing bets

The last example of horse racing presents an interesting element of how this law is interpreted. While horse racing clearly involves skills, the skill is on the part of the horse and/or jockey, not people making a bet, so the bet is still considered gambling.

Video game and slot machines present some unique considerations when it comes to gambling, which are reflected in specific laws.

Possession of a Slot Machines and Video Game Machines

Slot machine are the most straight-forward “gambling” game machines out there, because they generally involve inserting money and one motion (e.g. the press of a button, pull of a lever, etc) to produce a resulting combination of symbols. Essentially, it is fairly clear under the law that chance plays a greater role than skill.

The punishment for being in possession of a slot machine is a class 1 misdemeanor for a first offense. A second conviction for this offense is a class H felony, and a third and any following conviction is a class G felony.

Other video game machines get a bit more complicated as they tend to involve at least some skill. Video game machines that are not legal to operate with bets by non-exempted entities include video:

  • bingo
  • card games
  • craps
  • eight-liner
  • keno
  • lotto
  • poker
  • pot of gold
  • Games based on or involving random or chance matching of different pictures, words, symbols, not dependent on the skill or dexterity of the player.
  • Games not dependent on the skill or dexterity that is played while revealing a prize.

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