Myrtle Beach deciding on future of sweepstakes businesses

Five Myrtle Beach sweepstakes businesses shut down in a raid last month are making the case they should be allowed to get their business licenses back.

City Council heard their arguments Tuesday in a revocation hearing.

The conference room at City Hall had the feel of a courtroom as witnesses testified, lawyers argued and the mayor and City Council acted as quasi judge and jury.

Representing the city's business license department, attorney Mike Battle argued that the computers seized in a State Law Enforcement Division raid last month mimic the look and sounds of illegal video poker machines.

He said state officials and Myrtle Beach police have decided sweepstakes computers are gambling devices.

"Well, if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and lays golden eggs like a duck, then it's a duck. And the law prohibits games of chance," Battle told the council.

But attorneys for the sweepstakes businesses argued that no money is collected at the computers, there is no "pay for play" with the machines and the outcome of play is pre-determined, so the machines are legal.

One attorney argued that the doors were locked on the day SLED agents came to his client's business and police had no evidence of wrongdoing besides an anonymous tip.

"No warrants have been issued in this case. As a matter of fact, even in the case where the computers were confiscated, no tickets have been issued, no criminal charges have been issued," said attorney Jonny McCoy, who represented the owners of the Winners Circle Amusements and three other cafes.

The attorneys argued that the South Carolina General Assembly is debating legislation that would decide the legality of the machines, but until the state passes a law, the city should reinstate the sweepstake cafes' business licenses.

"It may become illegal, but at the present time it isn't, so we were just asking for the council's restraint and to allow the business to operate until such time as it's determined, definitively either to be legal or illegal," said Greg McCollum, who represented the owner of Five Star Internet Café.

Both sides have until March 8 to submit briefs on the case, and City Council is scheduled to decide whether or not to permanently revoke the cafes' business licenses on March 12.