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      What's the future of video poker machines in SC?

      An Horry County judge has ordered the destruction of seized video gaming machines that he ruled were illegal. But prosecutors believe the real gaming that's going on is the video poker industry gaming the legal system to make a quick buck until higher courts can decide the legality of these machines once and for all.

      Though Horry County Chief Summary Court Judge Gerald Whitley ruled this week that 24 gaming machines seized from the Wine and Time store in Little River last June are illegal, other judges in the state have ruled similar machines to be within the law.

      Horry County Solicitor Greg Hembree believes the state Supreme Court will ultimately have to decide the issue, and in the meantime, the video gaming industry will consider the fines and shut-downs to be just the cost of doing business.

      "It's not about right and wrong, it's about, 'What can we get away with, and will it be profitable to get away with it for this period of time, until South Carolina, until SLED can catch us and the attorney general can shut us down?' " Hembree said.

      Hembree said video gaming is an ugly industry that targets gambling addicts and there's so much money to be made from it, even in a short amount of time, that operators think it's worth it to keep opening up new video parlors.

      Right now, possession of an illegal gambling device in the state carries a fine of up to $500 per machine. Hembree said tougher penalties would help.

      "Making it a felony ends up, now you can't get a liquor license or whatever else you were doing in that business. It could have some real benefits in keeping them out," he said.

      Until the legality of the machines is decided, Hembree said current and future video gaming operators should be fair warned that these cases will be vigorously prosecuted.

      "And if you're going to do this, just be aware that it's a pretty risky proposition."

      There's enough money to be made in this business that Hembree said video poker operators will always be looking for a new technology or a new angle that they will claim makes their games legal. tim?

      South Carolina made video poker machines illegal in July of 2000.