A Sumter Internet sweepstakes operator has filed a federal lawsuit against the state’s top law enforcement officer and the Sumter County sheriff, saying his constitutional rights were violated when those agencies raided and shut down his business.
The suit cites the 1st and 14th amendments, which protect free speech and due process and equal protection under the law.
The lawsuit will be another legal test in the ongoing clash between people who operate the new Internet sweepstakes centers and public officials who maintain they are illegal. And the lawsuit pits SLED Chief Mark Keel against his predecessor, Reggie Lloyd, the agency’s former director, who’s working on behalf of the business owner.
Internet sweepstakes cafes have been popping up across the state this year as operators challenge South Carolina’s gambling laws, but most of the cases have been fought at the magistrate level of state courts. Lloyd said he brought the federal challenge because he is seeking a definitive ruling on the issue. Constitutional arguments over Internet sweepstakes have been brought in Florida, Ohio and Arkansas, he said.
At the Internet sweepstakes cafes, or centers, customers buy phone cards or Internet time and are given chances to win cash by playing sweepstakes games, which typically are computerized slots or poker.
The lawsuit, which was filed Monday, stems from a July 13 raid on Gamecock Sweepstakes No. 2, an Internet cafe owned by Terry Eddie Land, 49. Land was charged with operating an illegal gambling house, and officers seized 40 computers from the business, which is on U.S. 378 near Shaw Air Force Base. The raid forced Land to close his other business, Gamecock Sweepstakes No. 1 on Guinard Drive in Sumter.
Land said Tuesday that there is no definitive legal ruling in South Carolina that makes Internet sweepstakes games illegal. Therefore, he has a right to run the businesses, especially after paying $20,000 for licenses to operate in Sumter County.
“They shouldn’t be coming in there and locking up people if they don’t know it’s illegal,” Land said.
The lawsuit names Keel, Sumter County Sheriff Anthony Dennis and the state as defendants.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office vowed “to defend the South Carolina Constitution and laws that prohibit internet sweepstakes games, games of chance or any other variation of video poker.”
Keel’s office also pledged to continue enforcing the law. Keel had said the Internet sweepstakes games are illegal and he intends to continue seizing machines and arresting operators.