Shutting down sweepstakes

Horry County police, along with the State Law Enforcement Division, Myrtle Beach police, and the 15th Judicial Circuit Solicitor's office held a press conference to discuss recent seizures of illegal gaming and sweepstakes machines within Horry County on Thursday.

"Anyone in violation of this law upon conviction can be fine up to $500 and can spend at least one year in jail per machine," HCPD Chief Saundra Rhodes said.

"Let the public know they are illegal. Let our business owners know that if they are approached about putting their machines in their businesses that their licenses could potentially be revoked by our treasurers office."

For years, many have debated the legality of sweepstakes machines. But in the view of law enforcement officials in attendance, the law is simple.

"Bottom line is as far as the law is concerned, it's not what you call it. It's what it's used for," said SLED spokesman Thom Berry said.

Sweepstakes owners took advantage of loopholes in the video gambling law, passed in 2000, to continue to operate, Berry added.

"There's been a loophole that's being addressed by this legislative session," Berry said. "In fact, the bill passed the senate and now is going to be going to the house of representatives to try and close any loopholes."

On January 17th, Myrtle Beach police and SLED seized 21 internet sweepstakes machines and cash from 5 Star Internet Café Sweepstakes at 706 North Ocean Boulevard.

But the business was given a license to operate from Myrtle Beach.

The sweepstakes businesses are given arcade permits, according to city spokesman Mark Kruea.

It's out of the scope of responsibility of the city employees who issue the licenses to determine if the machines are illegal or not, Kruea added.

On Thursday, MBPD Chief Warren Gall said he's advised city administrators these machines are illegal.

There are have been efforts in other counties as well to stop sweepstakes businesses.

Wednesday afternoon, SLED and Marlboro County deputies seized 35 to 40 personal computers on which sweepstakes games were being played from J&K Sweepstakes in McColl.

On January 18th, six businesses in Georgetown were given administrative violations against their alcohol licenses after police say they found gaming machines inside.