Sweepstakes parlors: Some say legal, some say not

Sweepstakes parlors: Some say legal, some say not

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A new wave of video gambling parlors is causing controversy across South Carolina.

They are advertised as sweepstakes and internet cafes.  Inside, they look like video gambling parlors.

We saw people playing computer games to win money at a sweepstakes café on McMillian Avenue in North Charleston.

Twelve years after video poker machines were outlawed by the South Carolina Supreme Court, somehow these businesses have managed to open and stay open.

Anthony Murray is a regular customer.  "Everybody loves to win, like I'm doing right now," Murray said.

"Um, they're exciting and fun and it's just something to do," said Hermena Goss.

Players pay in advance, buying time to use the computers.  They can go on the internet or right to the video games to gamble.

"If they win, they cash in," said Candy Rice, manager of B&G Sweepstakes Center.

"Loopholes, yeah, we are here on loopholes," Rice said.

Here are the reasons why it's apparently legal.

Unlike the outlawed video poker, these businesses are marketed as "sweepstakes" rooms.  The players take home is based on credits that are "collected" and redeemed."  Operators say the odds of winning are "pre-determined."

"The odds are 92 percent on most of the games. We pay out a lot of money," Rice said.

She can't understand why anyone would label the games as illegal.

"I do not understand why this is anymore illegal or they're trying to get away from it than bingo, the scratch offs or the lottery."

Conservative state lawmakers believe the video games are video poker in disguise.

However Charleston Representative Leon Stavrinakis, who's also an attorney, believes the gaming parlors are above board.

"I think it's important to point out that other types of businesses are allowed to do sweepstakes gaming, mcdonald's monopoly. And soft drinks do it with bottle caps," Stavrinakis said.

At the height of popularity, video poker was a $2.8 billion industry with about 36,000 machines in 7,000 locations across South Carolina, which is why these new wave gambling businesses may want to stay in business.

They may be at the mercy of the members of the state legislature.

"There were already bills last year and I'm sure there will be again next year, bills to try to shut this down and we'll just have to see where it goes," Stavrinakis said.

Rice is concerned her business may eventually be shut down.

"Absolutely, every day, every day, and I think about that every day. But the thing of it is, I personally, as an individual, not being in politics, I don't understand it. I don't think my customers understand it."

So for now, the video gambling will go on, and the players will continue to cash in, hoping the odds will continue to be in their favor.

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