Beaufort News

SC House tentatively approves sweepstakes-machine ban

This Hest Sweepstakes internet cafe, seen in a September 2011 photo,  was shut down by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.
This Hest Sweepstakes internet cafe, seen in a September 2011 photo, was shut down by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office. File photo

The S.C. House has approved a bill that supporters say clarifies that sweepstakes machines, like those confiscated in Beaufort County, are illegal video gambling.

The measure approved Wednesday is meant to close loopholes that business owners cite to operate so-called sweepstakes cafes. Another vote would send it to the governor. The Senate passed it in January.

The vote comes a week after 50 people were arrested in South Carolina and other states as part of an investigation into a Florida-based charity accused of running gambling parlors with computer slot-machine-style games. Investigators say the group's executives gave little to veterans and lavished millions on themselves.

Attorneys say the group ran legal sweepstakes, much like contests sponsored by fast-food restaurants or retailers.

That's the same argument used by supporters of sweepstakes cafes in South Carolina.

Authorities raided and shut down three businesses in Beaufort County in 2011 for featuring sweepstakes machines.

When the cases came before Beaufort Magistrate Darlene Smith in February 2012, she ruled that the machines were tools for illegal gambling and ordered them destroyed.

Instead, some of the computers were donated to a local charity for troubled youth, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

Since the ruling, 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said the video games have not resurfaced in the county.

"We won our case, and that's the reason you don't see sweepstakes in businesses around here anymore," Stone said in January. "But that didn't happen everywhere."

Staff reporter Allison Stice and The Associated Press contributed.

Related content:

Beaufort judge: 'Sweepstakes' machines illegal gambling devices, Feb. 14, 2012

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