HARDEEVILLE, SC (WTOC) - The store front in Hardeeville, South Carolina looked innocent enough. When Hest Sweepstakes moved in a month ago, neighboring business Mi Territa Restaurant and Cantina didn't think much about it.
"They came in and they were giving us coupons and stuff, saying that they had some games we could go play," explained Rebecca Garcia, Mi Territa Manager.
But Rebecca was cautious and asked the manager more about his business.
"I had asked him 'Is it legal to have those games?' He said he had his licenses. So I said 'ok'."
In fact, Hest Sweepstakes made sure everyone knew their business was legitimate. They posted signs in their windows that said "This is not a gambling establishment." But the posters weren't enough.
"We took a peek outside and saw people taking stuff out. There were police officers outside," explained Rebecca.
On Friday, the Hardeeville Police Department raided the Hest Sweepstakes store. Police told WTOC the store was running an illegal gambling ring. Officers seized 24 laptop computers with games on them. As of Wednesday, no one has been arrested.
This is not the first time Hest Sweepstakes has been in trouble with the law. They were also busted in Beaufort County less than a month ago. Sheriff's Deputies there say the store claimed to be a non profit group, helping autistic children. Folks could make a "donation" in order to play casino games.
We did try to get in touch with Hest Sweepstakes numerous times today, by phone and through email. They did respond, after our story aired, but gave us a description of their organization and how they operate. Click the link above to read their respone.
Rebecca says she never took Hest Sweepstakes up on the offer. Now she's glad she stayed away.
"A lot of us were going to go play," she said, "But we didn't know it was illegal. Thank God I didn't go."