GEORGETOWN S.C. — Twelve years ago, South Carolina outlawed video poker machines leaving convenience stores and other businesses all over the state with empty space.
Now, a lot of that space has been filled with ‘sweepstakes’ machines. That practice has many judges issuing different rulings on their legality.
Until it is determined if the sweepstakes machines are legal, the City of Georgetown has issued a moratorium on issuing any new business licenses for anyone wanting to place devices in their establishments.
Council gave approval to the six month moratorium during its meeting Thursday night. At the end of that period it can be extended for another 90 days, if needed.
The moratorium does not impact places that already have the machines.
City Administrator Chris Eldridge said it would be up to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to remove the machines, if they are deemed to be illegal.
Right now there are mixed signals all over the state on the legality of the devices.
In December, Georgetown County Chief Magistrate Isaac Pyatt ruled the machines are legal by siding with Texas-based HEST Technologies, which says its machines are used for sweepstakes that make money for charities.
That ruling is being appealed.
A judge in Greenville has declared one game within the law, while a magistrate in Beaufort ordered 20 machines destroyed this week as violating the state's prohibition on video poker. Conflicting rulings have also been made in Horry county.
Georgetown Police Chief Paul Gardner told council Thursday night he wants a statewide ban on the machines which, he said, are just a new form of video gambling.
“It may have different feathers but it’s still a duck. There was a reason the state got rid of these things. People’s food money and paychecks were going into them,” Gardner said. “This is not what we want.”
Meanwhile, Reggie Lloyd, the former director of the State Law Enforcement Division, is now representing video sweepstakes interests. Lloyd, a lawyer, declares that the games are akin to those Publisher's Clearinghouse sweepstakes that turn up in the mailbox.
In a recent Associated Press report, Lloyd contended that the outcome is pre-determined, so it's not gambling. "These are legal. It's a fixed sweepstakes." He added, "Your odds don't vary. The prize is already set."
Eldridge said Georgetown has had requests from people wanting to convert buildings in the city to video gaming locations where such sweepstakes machines would be the main attraction.
He said until it is decided whether such games are legal, the city wants to err on the side of caution and not allow a license for such a business.
By Scott Harper
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