Video poker-style gaming is back, say state law enforcement officials, and they’re looking for help from lawmakers to stop the illegal activity.
“Gaming is back in South Carolina. It’s proliferated in the last couple of years to every county,” said SLED Chief Mark Keel, head of the state’s top law enforcement agency.
At issue is a new breed of machines, called sweepstakes machines, and new casino-style Internet cafes that are popping up around the state.
While lawmakers outlawed games of chance 12 years ago, the law was apparently not clear enough. The ambiguity has led to a couple of S.C. circuit court judges deeming the new machines legal while law enforcement insists they are illegal.
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“I thought we had a clear public policy on this and I guess it’s not so clear,” said Jeff Moore, director of the S.C. Sheriffs’ Association. “We believe they’re illegal. They’re games of chance.”
Two bills working their way through the House and Senate now seeks to clarify the state’s law and reiterate that these games of chance are prohibited.
“We’re rapidly going down the slope of what is essentially video poker,” said Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, a sponsor of the Senate bill that gained approval from a Senate subcommittee Wednesday. “It will replicate itself in every convenience store in South Carolina if the Legislature doesn’t address it.”
A House subcommittee will consider a similar bill this afternoon.
Bob Coble, an attorney who represents sweepstakes machine maker, Pace-O-Matic, said sweepstake machines are typically not connected to the Internet, are not gambling and should be allowed as they benefit small business owners including bar owners and convenience store owners.
The machines allow players to enter sweepstakes to win various products and also gives them a chance to play poker, keno and bingo.
Coble said the sweepstakes machines are often mistakenly confused with machines in Internet cafes that are hooked up to the Internet.
“It would be unfair to single out the small business owner but not the casino-style operations,” Coble said.