The free market don't need no stinkin' laws:
The state lawmaker who led a closed-door committee meeting last week for House Republicans to hear from lobbyists and special interests on video gambling is, himself, in the gambling business.
Rep. Mike C. Stone, a Sanford Republican, owns a small grocery where customers can play a variety of sweepstakes games on four desktop computer terminals.
While the relatively new law against video sweepstakes might be bouncing around in court, the video poker ban is not in question:
Until this weekend, customers could also take their chances on four video-poker-style stand-up machines that lined a wall near the canned vegetables.
Stone said he removed the video-poker-style machines Friday night after repeated phone calls from an N&O reporter.
Making it quite obvious that Rep. Stone was well aware of the difference, knew he was solidly on the wrong side of the law with the poker machines, and was trying to cover his ass.
And as far as violating the spirit (if not the letter) of the Open Meetings Law: It's bad enough to meet behind closed doors, but when you boot a reporter who's already there out of the room, there's no doubt you're trying to conceal your actions:
the House Republicans held a closed-door meeting Thursday in which Stone, heeding the request of Rep. David Lewis, a Dunn Republican, ordered an N&O reporter to leave the room just as the first of a half-dozen pro-gambling lobbyists and special interests was about to speak. Stone denied the newspaper's appeal to stay in the meeting.
And if running a gambling establishment and backroom shenanigans are not enough to offend GOP supporters, how about pay-to-play:
Frye was identified on the agenda as a member of a pro-video-gambling industry association called the Entertainment Group of North Carolina.
Frye wrote a $500 check to Stone's campaign three days before the November election, according to campaign records. On the campaign disclosure forms, Frye is listed as being in real estate.
Stone said the check from Frye likely was part of broader support from the pro-video gaming interests. He said he believed that an industry lobbyist, Gardner Payne, was likely involved in directing the check his way. Stone and Payne had spoken during the campaign, Stone said.
Records show Stone received other campaign checks from gaming machine interests. "Different people with amusement companies who own the machines, ... they'll send 'em out," Stone said.
The N&O deserves a healthy pat on the back for chasing this story, and I hope they keep it up.