The rise of Internet and video gaming that resembles the old days of video poker in South Carolina could be something the Legislature is forced to confront this year, a Charleston lawmaker said Friday.
State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis said there's "kind of a new breed of machine out there" where purveyors are using the term "sweepstakes" instead of "payouts" to promote play in Internet cafes and other sites.
"I would not be surprised if some momentum started building on it and we ended up with a little bit of a battle," he said.
The comments came after Charleston City Council this week moved to place a six-month moratorium on approving zoning, permitting and licensing for any new Internet cafes or arcades. The hiatus is designed to give the city time to explore the rise of gaming businesses where patrons can use a personal computer to log on and play video games that resemble electronic slot machines regularly featured at full-scale casinos.
Two such businesses have sprouted in the city in recent months, both in West Ashley strip malls. Both charge patrons for using Internet time on the dozens of PCs they have inside that can be linked to games tied to cash wins but referred to as operational sweepstakes.
The frequency of such sites has grown around the state in the past year, with police, zoning and court actions triggered in Greenville, Sumter, Georgetown and Beaufort. In some cases, magistrates have ruled the play does not violate the state's anti-gambling laws.
For instance, a Georgetown County magistrate last year ruled machines that follow the sweepstakes model of play are compliant under state law, according to published reports.
South Carolina lawmakers have only recently worked to combat the effort.
Last week, state Rep. Phyllis Henderson, R-Greenville, offered a bill she said is designed to outlaw the use of casino-type video games in sweepstakes scenarios. She didn't know how the bill might cover personal computer hook-ups in cafes but added the entire focus of her effort might have to expand to include regulating them as well.
"If we're taking it all at once, we might as well," she said Friday. State senators are behind an effort as well.
Stavrinakis, a West Ashley Democrat, said a difficulty for the Legislature is in writing a bill that targets certain aspects of the sweepstakes, which might be labeled as cloaked gambling, while at the same time not affecting other areas, such as sweepstakes offered by grocery store chains.
Video gambling became illegal in the state in 2000, but various efforts have been made to bring the games back since then, in different forms.