Richland County businesses heed sheriff’s warning over sweepstakes machines

January 26, 2013 

— Richland County Sheriff’s deputies have seized one gambling machine as they make the rounds to bars, stores and restaurants to search for the devices.

Sheriff Leon Lott served notice on Jan. 16 that he would not tolerate Internet sweepstakes and other gambling machines. He warned the public that his deputies would begin seizing machines and arresting those who operate them or play them. His deputies this week began stopping by area businesses to look for the video machines.

So far, only one of the 18 businesses visited has been caught with a machine, Lott said. Deputies found a Megatouch game at The Friends Club on the 2700 block of Decker Boulevard. They seized the machine but did not arrest the 70-year-old man working at the bar, he said.

Deputies will continue their inspections next week.

“The warning period is over,” Lott said. “We’re in the enforcement period.”

Internet sweepstakes and other video gambling devices began making their way back into Richland County over the summer. The sheriff’s department joined State Law Enforcement Division agents on a June raid of an Internet sweepstakes cafe on Sparkleberry Road Extension. After the raid, most sweepstakes businesses closed or decided against opening.

However, individual machines could be found inside convenience stores, bars and restaurants. Customers buy phone cards or codes that allow them long distance phone access and then get to play games such as video poker, slots or keno for a chance to win prizes. The machines’ owners argue they are legal under state law and are no different than sweepstakes games played at large companies such as McDonald’s.

But Attorney General Alan Wilson and SLED Chief Mark Keel have determined they are illegal.

Lott reached out last year to owners of the largest convenience store chains in the county to tell them the machines were illegal. Several companies removed the machines upon his advice.

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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