Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott hopes Internet sweepstakes centers and stores that host individual sweepstakes machines get the message after his department earlier this week seized 21 computers and charged three people with gambling.
On Thursday, he vowed to conduct more raids if people continue to operate the machines.
“It’s just a matter of time for all of these,” Lott said. “The state has ruled that they are illegal. Period.”
On Wednesday, State Law Enforcement Division agents and Richland County sheriff’s investigators raided Cafe 21 on Sparkleberry Lane Extension in Northeast Richland.
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Sheriff’s investigators charged the cafe’s owner, its manager and a customer with gambling. The charge is a misdemeanor. However, S.C. law allows magistrate judges to give people who run gaming houses a stiffer fine and a longer jail sentence than those who are gambling.
The maximum penalty for someone convicted of gambling is 30 days in jail or a $100 fine, according to the state’s gambling laws. And, the maximum for someone who runs a gaming house is 12 months in jail or a $2,000 fine.
A court date has not been set for the three charged in the raid.
Reggie Lloyd, the defense attorney for the Cafe 21 owner, could not be reached for comment.
Authorities also on Wednesday raided a Lexington County sweepstakes center. SLED agents, with help from the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, seized 18 computers from Shatters, an Internet sweepstakes parlor on St. Andrews Road. No one was charged.
The raids came as state and local law enforcement turn up the heat on businesses that host gambling operations. At the businesses, customers buy phone cards or Internet time and receive entries to play games such as poker, slots and keno on computers. The sweepstakes operators have said they are rewarding prizes to people who have purchased a product and that the practice is no different than any other rewards program used to promote a product.
News of Wednesday’s busts didn’t deter some businesses.
In Lexington County, a sweepstakes parlor on Sunset Boulevard was open. And at a convenience store on Rosewood Drive, one man was playing on a sweepstakes machine while lights flashed on two others.
But on Two Notch Road, a sweepstakes business called A & C Business Center was closed.
Lott said his deputies have been investigating other sweepstakes businesses but would not specify which ones.
“This is not something you can do in one day,” he said.
The investigations started once Lott learned the businesses had opened. He said he has received complaints about them.
“There’s a big demand for us to do something,” he said. “You have a couple of them right by churches. Pastors are calling.”
Video from Wednesday's raid