Computers seized in Bluffton sweepstakes raids now donated to charity

astice@islandpacket.comJuly 18, 2012 

The Hest Sweepstakes internet cafe is shown in this file photo. The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office investigated the business for illegal gambling after the department received an anonymous tip from a resident, according to an incident report.


Computers that authorities say were used for illegal gambling will now help at-risk youth beat the odds.

Five desktop computers seized in September during a raid at HEST Sweepstakes in Bluffton will be donated to the nonprofit organization AMIKids, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office announced Wednesday.

AMIKids, formerly known as the Beaufort Marine Institute, helps troubled youth through a variety of programs, including alternative education. The organization has an office in Seabrook and runs 56 other programs in eight states.

The confiscated computers, awarded to the Sheriff's Office by state law, will be cleaned and loaded with new operating systems before the Sheriff's Office installs them Friday at the AMIKids location on Honeybee Island Road, the release said.

The computers were outfitted with sweepstakes-style video games, which accepted donations to charity that were entered as gaming credits. The credits could be used to play games for cash prizes.

Authorities raided and shut down three establishments featuring such machines in Beaufort County last year.

The machines have also popped up elsewhere. Sweepstakes manufacturers and Internet cafe owners have argued they are no different than McDonald's Monopoly sweepstakes, in which customers can win a prize after purchasing something else.

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has said they should be banned under anti-gambling laws. In February, a Beaufort magistrate agreed, ruling that the sweepstakes machines were illegal gambling devices. Other courts across the state have ruled differently.

The S.C. State Law Enforcement Division continues to build cases against establishments that feature similar computers and games. Authorities raided and shut down Internet parlors and other stores with individual computers in Richland and Lexington counties this month, charging several people with gambling.

SLED Chief Mark Keel has promised more computers will be confiscated.

Noelle Phillips of The (Columbia) State contributed to this article.

Related content

  1. Sweepstakes ban passes SC legislative deadline, school-funding and gambling changes stalled, April 30, 2012
  2. 'Sweepstakes' machine ban stalls in S.C. legislature, March 21, 2012
  3. Beaufort judge: 'Sweepstakes' machines illegal gambling devices, Feb. 14, 2012

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