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The city of Charleston is looking to continue its moratorium on Internet gambling cafes for another 90 days.

But at the same time, officials are exploring whether to make the new wave of mini-casinos legal as well.

City Council this week struck the middle ground by asking its legal staff to draw up two polar ordinances, including one that would permanently ban simulated gambling sites within city limits.

The other would recognize them as legitimate businesses that would then be allowed to grow in number and go on the tax rolls.

Either way, a public hearing on the highly divisive issue is likely to be held in Council Chambers later this winter.

Earlier this year, Charleston became one of the first local governments in the state to enact a temporary ban on such businesses, which opponents call a back-door attempt to rekindle video poker.

Much of Charleston’s frustration behind enacting its moratorium was the Legislature’s inability to address the spread of the sites. Bills that would ban the parlors died when the session ended in June.

Opponents say the sites are little more than computerized video gambling, since players buy time on computers that already are addressed to play sites. Proponents, meanwhile, contend they are more like raffle houses since it is predetermined by computer chip whether a player will win.

City Councilman Aubrey Alexander sponsored the call for the current moratorium to continue but also asked Charleston’s legal department to draft the two ordinances so that council could explore its options.

“What I’d really like to see is for the state to do its job,” he said of the Statehouse’s lack of guidance.

Councilman Dean Riegel opposed the measure, saying the city should lay off small businesses trying to earn a living off an industry that is legal. He also chided the current atmosphere in Charleston that is against cruise ships, is anti-smoking and anti-cigar bar. “We continue to be a city of ‘no,’?” he said.

Video poker became illegal in South Carolina 12 years ago, though several efforts have surfaced over time to bring the machines back.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.

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