Video gaming bill clears committee

COLUMBIA — A proposal to close a perceived loophole in the state’s video poker ban will move forward, despite a protest from a state senator who says gaming machine owners haven’t had sufficient opportunity to have their voices heard on the proposal.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday passed a bill by committee Chairman Larry Martin that he and supporters think will eliminate any perception that so-called “sweepstakes” machines are legal in South Carolina.

The machines allow users to play computerized poker, slots and other games, but with pre-determined odds of winning a prize redeemable for cash.

Machine owners, who have opened sweepstakes rooms across the state, and their supporters believe the pre-determined nature of the games makes them legal and no different than other sweepstakes games such as the Monopoly game at McDonald’s. The State Law Enforcement Division, which has been conducting raids on the rooms since last year, and the S.C. Attorney General’s Office both argue the machines are illegal.

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, unsuccessfully asked the committee Tuesday to hold off on a vote until next week, contending the measure is being rushed.

Hutto opposes the bill and wants the state to regulate and capture revenue from the machines.

Hutto said machine owners want to testify on the bill, but haven’t had sufficient time to do so because a subcommittee hearing on the bill was held before the legislative session began Tuesday.

“There’s some people actually involved that would like to be heard,” he said.

Hutto has said he will place a minority report on Martin’s proposal, making it more difficult for the bill to pass in the Senate.

The upper chamber could take up the proposal as soon as next week.

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