Almost 15 years after the state Supreme Court thought it had abolished video poker from South Carolina’s strip malls, gas stations and smoky backrooms, lawmakers think they’ve got it this time.
On March 22, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill that critics of video gambling believe clears up any ambiguity about how the law applies to sweepstakes machines, phone-time machines and other devices known as video poker 2.0.
In 1999, the state Supreme Court outlawed video poker machines. In recent years, though, they’ve come back in a new incarnation as sweepstakes machines, or phone-card machines, and with the help of well-connected public officials, lobbyists, lawyers and the state’s ex-top cop. Critics say video poker wreaked havoc on communities and corrupted state government; proponents say the government shouldn’t have a monopoly on gambling with the state lottery, and it’s not the government’s job to protect people from themselves. Video poker supporters have also likened sweepstakes machines to the Monopoly game at McDonald’s.
Because state law wasn’t clear, local magistrates in different counties have ruled differently on individual machines. It’s up to a local magistrate to determine whether they’re illegal. Some rule they’re legal; others rule they aren’t. State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel says they’re illegal, as does the S.C. Sheriffs Association and the state attorney general’s office.
But Pickens Republican Sen. Larry Martin, a sponsor of the legislation, says the new law clears that up.
“We asked law enforcement and the attorney general’s office to provide for us what they needed to clear up any ambiguity in the existing law regarding these sweepstakes machines,” Martin says. “We believe they’re illegal. SLED is seizing them every day under the existing law, but this was an added protection in an effort to keep these folks from suing their way back into existence as they did the first time back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.”
As the new law worked its way through the General Assembly, some local sheriffs — most notably Richland County’s Leon Lott — put the word out that his deputies would be raiding sweepstakes cafes and seizing illegal video poker machines.
Controversy over the resurgence of video gambling in South Carolina boiled over last summer when state law enforcement began investigating the ties of Lexington County politicians to a video gambling underworld. Lexington Town Councilman Danny Frazier had been caught on audio recordings explaining how video gambling machine operators were able to run their businesses under the cover of friendly local law enforcement and politicians.
State law enforcement has remained tight-lipped about any investigation in Lexington. In late January, SLED Chief Mark Keel testified in favor of the new law in a public hearing. During his testimony he said SLED had investigated allegations that “officers had been paid” to take machines before magistrates. He declined to comment about what he meant by “officers,” and declined to comment on whether such investigations are ongoing.
Video gambling is a hot topic in the Southeast right now. The sweepstakes industry is pushing for legitimacy in North Carolina. And on March 12, authorities arrested nine people on racketeering charges tied to a multi-state video gambling ring they said was masked as a Florida-based charity called Allied Veterans of the World. Florida’s Republican Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who consulted for the entity, resigned when news broke of the scandal, though she said she’d done nothing improper. She had once tried to pass legislation related to gaming cafes as a lawmaker, according to ABC News.
More arrests in that investigation are expected in South Carolina, according to SLED. That multi-state gambling probe isn’t related to anything going on in Lexington, SLED spokesman Thom Berry said.
About the new state law clearing up loopholes in video gambling legislation, Palmetto Family Council director Oran Smith says he believes it will stick and will allow law enforcement to enforce existing law, according to conversations he’s had with the attorney general’s office.
The Palmetto Family Council, a socially conservative advocacy group, early days were spent fighting the original video poker back in the 1990s because it felt with 33,000 machines — essentially one per every square mile in the state — there was more access to gambling here than there was anywhere else in the country. Smith called it the crack-cocaine of gambling.
King Lear in Finlay Park
October 16th-18th and 22nd-25th, the South Carolina Shakespeare Company presents William Shakespeare’s King Lear. All performances held at the Finlay Park Ampitheatre at 7:30 PM. For tickets and more information, click here or call 803-665-2000.
The Other Place at Trustus Theatre
Juliana Smithton is a successful neurologist whose life seems to be coming unhinged. A mystery unfolds as fact blurs with fiction, past collides with present and the elusive truth of Juliana’s mental health boils to the surface in The Other Place, running at Trustus Theatre October 17th through November 1st. There will be a talk-back following the matinee on October 19th. Tickets can be purchased here or by calling the box office at 803-254-9732.
Bluegrass, Bidding, and BBQ
Join The Palladium Society Thursday, October 23rd from 7-10 p.m. for its 11th annual silent auction, featuring music by The Mustache Brothers and catering by Bourbon and The Oak Table. Tickets are $30 at the door and include admission, drinks, and food. Get yours online now!
Four Miles, Twelve Doughnuts
Winston’s Wish aims to increase knowledge and understanding of children with autism, and you can help by participating in the 4.donut Race on October 25th. Start at Edventure Children’s Museum, run 2 miles to Krispy Kreme, eat 12 doughnuts, and run back! Registration is required and can be done here before October 23rd at 5 p.m.
3LAU on Sunday, October 26th and the Unofficial Skrillex Mothership Tour After-Party on the 27th. More information and tickets for both can be found here. VIP tables available.
SEARCH FREE TIMES
Local business is searching for new associates who are looking for a fun environment to earn great wages. Great position for college students/recent graduates. Must be well-mannered with excellent customer service skills/work ethic/ability to lift heavy items/must have valid Driver’s License. Call 803-376-4884 or email resume: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Currently seeking a friendly & detail-oriented individual for an Administrative Assistant/Data Entry Clerk position on our Administrative Office team. Primary responsibilities include: Data entry, process incoming & outgoing mail, good communication skills required. Contact: email@example.com.
U.S. Security Associates
Now hiring immediately for armed and unarmed security officers. WE TRAIN YOU! Columbia & surrounding areas. ussecurityassociates.com
Cupcake now hiring a closing manager. Must be outgoing, customer service focused, able to work evenings and weekends. Apply in person. 1213 Lincoln Street, Columbia SC 29201. freshcupcakes.com