Judge to decide on legality of 'sweepstakes' machines

Published: Feb. 8, 2012 at 11:23 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 7, 2012 at 4:53 PM EST
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BEAUFORT CO., SC (WTOC) - Back in September, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office shut down what they called an illegal gambling operation at Hest Sweepstakes in the Food Lion Shopping Center in Bluffton.

24 computers and more than $1,700 in cash were seized. Investigators say the store was a front for an illegal gambling operation to benefit the non-profit group Skyeward Bound Ranch, which helps autistic children.

But the question is, were those machines inside legal or illegal under South Carolina Law.

The lawyer for HEST Technologies, Johnny Gasser, says the computers don't violate any laws.

"The hardware and software being used is not being used for gambling purposes," said Gasser. "You can't put money into the hardware, it's not a traditional blackjack or keno or video poker game. It's a sweepstakes promoting a legitimate charity organization."

Gasser says anyone can enter the sweepstakes for free and you don't even have to play any of the games to win.

"The playing of the game itself has nothing to do with whether or not you're won a prize or not," said Gasser.

But Solicitor Duffie Stone say these gaming machines are illegal and they're using technology to try to get around the state law.

"In South Carolina gambling is gambling if you satisfy three elements, payout, pay in and chance," said Stone. "In other worlds if you give money to the clerk and put it in the machine and then you get back money and during that process, its not involved in your skill, it's a game of chance and that's gambling."

Solicitor Stone says one of the deputies actually went into HEST Sweepstakes undercover and donated $20, played the machines, and won.

Gasser says when clients come into the Sweepstakes and register, they are at that point, given a predetermined amount of money they could win, regardless of how long they play the machines or if they play them at all. However, he says when someone donates money to give to the charity, it allows them more opportunities in the sweepstakes.

After listening to both sides in court Wednesday, Beaufort County Magistrate Judge Darlene Smith said she needed a week to make her ruling on what's become a very controversial issue state-wide.

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