FLORENCE CO., SC -- South Carolina's State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), accompanied by the Florence Police Department, the Florence County Sheriff's office and the state Attorney General's office, raided two locations here on Aug. 1. Authorities seized 70 sweepstakes videogames from one of the locations and 20 from the other.
The action was the latest in a continuing crackdown by state and local government. In a July 11 raid, SLED cops joined Richland County sheriff's office in raiding two Midlands sweeps cafés, seizing a total of 38 machines between those two venues. Raids also took place that month in Lexington County.
In June 2011, a raid in Little River resulted in the seizure of 24 videogame sweepstakes machines owned by Figure Eight Sweepstakes Games (Greeneville). As of Aug. 8, those machines have been slated for court-ordered destruction.
In a now-familiar story, Horry County Chief Summary Court Judge Gerald Whitley agreed with local prosecutors and police that sweepstakes games are illegal gambling devices, while operator Jimmy O. Bridges said they are legal promotions with entertainment value.
According to local press outlets, Horry County Solicitor Greg Hembree called video-based, risk-reward entertainment a profitable but "ugly business" that preys on gambling addicts. Hembree claimed that sweepstakes game operators consider fines and raids costs of doing business, not serious deterrents.
Hembree also called for making possession of electronic sweepstakes machines a felony. He predicted that the state's Supreme Court will eventually be required to rule on the legal status of the games, and that the high court will rule them to be illegal gambling devices.
However, such an outcome is by no means certain. Judges in other South Carolina districts, as well as courts in other states, have found sweepstakes videogames to be legal promotions. Some judges, notably in North Carolina, have also ruled that gambling-style graphics and gameplay are permissible for sweeps games under the free-speech amendment of the U.S. constitution.