By Paul Gable and Jeffrey Sewell
Politics and intrigue too often inject themselves into what should be relatively straightforward issues in South Carolina. This has been especially true recently in government agendas related to internet sweepstakes cafes.
We have been reading recently of what is called the ‘Lexington Ring’ in blogs. Assertions have been made that this so-called cabal of law enforcement officials, magistrates and state legislators is conspiring to allow illegal video poker operations in the midlands.
“Make no mistake none of this is about video gambling. It is, all about assisting petition candidate Katrina Shealy in defeating incumbent Republican Sen. Jake Knotts in the November general election.”
SLED chief Mark Keel has declared these operations illegal and has led raids on some of them complete with seizure of the machines. We hear Keel did some magistrate shopping until he found one that could be counted on to declare the machines illegal. The ‘machines’ in some cases are laptop computers with either access to web-based applications and or software that runs a sweepstakes program, not the video poker machines of old.
Keel has his magistrate, but judges and magistrates within the state have given conflicting rulings on whether the sweepstakes program constitutes gambling. They have been declared both legal and illegal in the same county and operate quite openly in some areas while being confiscated just down the road.
While there are similarities with video gambling, there is one specific difference. Even with the historically low payouts of video poker, the amount a player could win was not specifically defined by the software. There was some element of chance, luck or even possibly skill that goes along with gambling.
Internet sweepstakes cafes sell Internet access or long-distance phone cards. With each purchase, a customer receives free sweepstakes entries to play casino-style computer games for cash prizes.
The winning tickets or chances provided to sweepstakes players are predetermined by sweepstakessoftware. There is no element of luck or skill involved in the games. Therein lies the difficulty in proving these games are gambling.
You don’t even have to play the games to find out if you are a winner. A player can check all the tokens or whatever form of entry is used immediately to see if there are any winners among them. They are no different than the game pieces distributed by McDonald’s for its monopoly promotion.
While Keel has declared the games illegal, his predecessor Reggie Lloyd is defending some of the operators who have been charged. Lloyd has brought a federal lawsuit this week against the state, Keel and the Sumter County sheriff on behalf of a café owner in Sumter whose café was raided and shut down. He said he expects other café owners to join the suit.
This is going to get very messy with court actions and as state law now stands, an eventual loss for those attempting to say the sweepstakes, cafes are video poker operations.
Make no mistake none of this is about video gambling. It is, all about assisting petition candidate Katrina Shealy in defeating incumbent Republican Sen. Jake Knotts in the November general election.
Unbelievable right, not in South Carolina, whereby the governor appoints SLED chief Mark Keel and the governor’s best friend is Katrina Shealy and a mortal enemy of Knotts.
Read some of the crap that is being published on other blogs in the state, and you can quickly see the smear campaign being conducted against Knotts. There are considerable insinuations, innuendo and inference, but little in substantiated facts. This is typical South Carolinian Politics in the mold of its godfather Lee Atwater.
These stories have nothing to do with legal or illegal video games, conspiracies or payoffs. Their only purpose is to try to influence a senate election.