COLUMBIA, SC -- In a scandal that may harm prospects to legalize sweepstakes videogames in South Carolina, TV stations and newspapers here in the state capital are having a field day with a series of explicit audio recordings that expose an illegal video poker ring and its high-placed protectors.
The audio recordings feature Lexington city councilman and part-time sheriff's office liaison Danny Frazier talking gleefully about how to set up and run an illegal payoff video poker business -- allegedly with the cooperation of crooked cops and politicians.
"I do the dirty work" for state legislators, Frazier bragged on one recording. Frazier has not denied that the voice on the recordings is his.
Implicated in the scandal so far are Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and state Senators Jakie Knotts (R-Lexington) and Ronnie Cromer (R-Newberry). All these individuals have denied involvement in any illegal poker-related activities.
Questions have also been asked about possible involvement by Lexington County Sheriff James Metts, who hired Frazier three months ago as a liaison to the business community. Metts has allegedly received $6,200 in contributions from "people connected to Danny Frazier's gambling operation," said local NBC affiliate WIS-TV Channel 10, which broke the story.
Sheriff Metts said he has asked the FBI and the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate the affair. Metts insisted on his own innocence and vowed to jail anyone involved in the poker ring.
It's unclear who made the audio recordings. WIS said the source(s) who provided the evidence to the TV station have also turned copies over to law enforcement and civil authorities.
The recordings can be heard in full at WIS TV 10. In-depth stories exposing the video poker episode have also been published by The Free Times and FITS News.
An operator convicted of running illegal poker machines can spend one year in jail for each count of illegal gambling. According to some estimates, payoff video poker generated up to $4 billion a year in South Carolina before all forms of poker machines were outlawed by the state Supreme Court in 1999.
The Frazier scandal may have repercussions that go far beyond video poker. Some of the businesses allegedly involved in illegal pokers are also operating sweepstakes videogame venues in South Carolina, the legality of which is a subject of hot debate.
Accordingly, some observers have speculated that negative public reaction to the poker scandal may also taint the sweeps game industry, adding to the difficulties of creating a state-sanctioned regulatory framework for the sector.