A statewide battle over whether some gaming machines assumed illegal by authorities do not violate the state’s ban on video gambling has made its way to York County.
Two lawsuits filed against Sheriff Bruce Bryant and Marvin Brown, the commander of a countywide drug enforcement unit, challenge recent police actions against the owners and operators of such machines.
In one lawsuit, video game company GM Co. claims officers with York County’s Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit confiscated four of its Palmetto Gold machines from two York County businesses despite knowing a judge had declared them legal.
In another, a Rock Hill business owner on Porter Road alleges Brown and deputies came in and threatened arrest in an attempt to stop him from operating the machines, which had been declared legal.
“Unless you’ve got probable cause to believe that somebody’s done something wrong, you don’t have the right to seize his property” or threaten prosecution, said Jahue Moore, a Columbia attorney representing both plaintiffs.
“The question then becomes, what conceivable fact did you have that these machines were operated any differently than the ones that had been already ruled upon as legal?”
Brown and Bryant reject the allegations, saying that in confiscating the machines the officers were following the lead of the State Law Enforcement Division and the state attorney general’s office, which told them the Palmetto Golds were illegal.
The lawsuits are among many in a statewide battle between the gaming industry and law enforcement and prosecutors over the legality of gaming devices.
The state outlawed video poker in 2000, shutting down a nearly $3 billion industry. But in recent years, the video gaming industry has introduced new machines and is challenging authorities when they seize them, claiming the machines are legal.
The difficulty of defining the difference between legal games and illegal gambling machines also complicates matters.
While state law prohibits any slot machines or coin-operated devices “pertaining to games of chance,” the law allows skill-based games – a definition Moore applies to the Palmetto Gold machines and police reject.
Proponents of another type of video gaming machine offering sweepstakes or products say they’re also legal under a section of state law that allows beer and wine permit holders to offer games of chance. The games must be offered in connection to the sale of a product or sweepstakes, the rules must be clearly advertised and offer free participation.
But while gaming interests say the exception allows for their machines, police and a state prosecutor say Moore and other advocates of the gaming industry are misreading the law.
The exception for beer and wine permit holders, which says nothing about gaming machines, doesn’t negate the ban on video gambling and make the machines legal, said state assistant attorney general Jared Libet. It’s intent is to allow, for example, a soft-drink company to offer a bottle cap promotion or sweepstakes.