SLED chief calls illegal gaming law confusing

Law enforcement agencies in South Carolina are seizing gaming machines based on a 2000 law outlawing video gaming. However, there's some question about the machines being seized because they are different than the machines that were around at the time of the ban.

"It's not just an open and shut matter," said South Carolina Law Enforcement Division(SLED) Chief Mark Keel. "It is confusion and there has been a problem both for law enforcement and the courts to determine which are legal and which are not because they're constantly changing these machines."

Keel is referring to video gaming machines. South Carolina outlawed video gambling ten years ago. But different types of video gaming machines have started popping up over the past year to 18 months, said Keel.

When SLED or local authorities seized the machines, it's up to a magistrate judge to determine if the machines are legal or not, said Keel.

Last Friday, Georgetown County deputies seized twenty machines from Murrells Inlet Sweepstakes on Highway 17 Bypass.

Horry County police recently raided three establishments for gaming machines. County police seized machines from The Wine and Times in Little River, Coastal Ale House in Conway and The Bar in Garden City, said Sgt. Robert Kegler.

While video poker machines were popular back in the 90's before being outlawed in 2000, the machines being found now are often referred to as sweepstakes machines. According to the law, "In order for it to be illegal, you have to pay to play it, it has to be a game of chance and it has to pay out," said Kegler.

The gaming devices often say they are legal because the money is being transferred through the internet, but that is not the case, said Keel. "The fact that it is on the internet or internet based does not make it legal or illegal. It depends upon the types of games being played and a judge would have to make that determination whether it is a legal device."

Because there is no blanketing legislation on the devices and each case is ruled separately often by a different judge, that leads to complications, said Keel.

"You have different judges that have different opinions on machines that are presented to them. It always makes it more difficult because that is the type of situation we have, but that is the process that has been put in place by the court to carry those machines before a judge and the judge make the decision. It does complicate the issue for sure."

Keel says since becoming chief of SLED earlier this year, he's gotten several phone calls from legislators and law enforcement saying the machines have made a come back because there had been little or no enforcement of the law.

"The laws have not been enforced in the past couple of years," said Keel. "We're letting businesses know that we are going to start looking at these devices once again. We're not trying to hurt people's businesses, but we're trying to enforce the law."

Keel recently met with the state's Convenience Store Association to warn them of SLED's pending enforcement. "I'm not trying to catch anyone by surprise. SLED will start enforcing the laws of the gaming machines again."