To say the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) has zero credibility when it comes to enforcing the Palmetto State’s video poker laws is an understatement. Last spring SLED – which is part of S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s cabinet – received clear and compelling evidence attesting to the existence of a video poker ring in Lexington, S.C., one allegedly run by a cadre of crooked politicians and corrupt cops.
What did the agency do with this info? Absolutely nothing …
SLED didn’t do a thing until the story was forced out into the open by a local alternative weekly – and then doggedly pursued by this website and Columbia, S.C. television station WIS TV 10 (NBC – Columbia, S.C.). Of course SLED chief Mark Keel didn’t particularly like that we were so dogged in our pursuit. In fact according to him our efforts to expose the inner workings of this ring impeded his efforts to “catch the bad guys.”
Anyway, while South Carolina waits to see if the central figures of the “Lexington Ring” receive justice, Keel has been overcompensating for his agency’s prior failings by waging a hypocritical and inconsistent jihad against all manner of electronic video games – claiming they fall under the category of “video poker” machines.
Do they, though? Currently there is no real rule in South Carolina as to what constitutes a video poker machine. While efforts have been undertaken to eliminate specific types of machines – part of a broader push to eliminate competition for the state’s government-run gambling ring – no one knows if a game is legal until it is taken to a magistrate. That’s part of the problem, though: There are currently no restrictions on which magistrates can hear cases – which leads to both sides “shopping” for friendly judges.
Also, South Carolina has very low standards for magistrate qualifications (seriously … any hairdresser can do it).
More to the point, machines are destroyed the moment a magistrate rules against them – which makes the appeals process meaningless. Seriously … why appeal a ruling to an actual judge if the property in question has already been destroyed?
S.C. Rep. Bill Herbkersman (R-Beaufort) has introduced legislation aimed at clarifying what constitutes a “video poker” machine in South Carolina – hoping to prevent headaches for the manufacturers of legal machines and (more importantly) to prevent revenue losses for the small businesses which host legal machines in their establishments. Specifically, Herbkersman’s bill would establish a process by which video machines were certified as legal and registered with the state so that there would be no confusion as to what a “video poker” machine is – and isn’t.
Yet while S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office – which has to ultimately prosecute violators – seems to have an open mind on this issue, Keel believes Herbkersman’s bill is some sort of “back door” to video poker’s return. And yes, that’s pretty ironic when you consider the sort of activity his agency has been tolerating in recent years.
Here’s the thing: Until our state takes its headquarters from its hindquarters and legalizes all forms of gambling, government will continue to be a hypocritical arbiter on the subject. It will also deal with inconsistencies regarding enforcement. For example: Dave and Buster’s – a Dallas-based entertainment restaurant company – recently announced its intentions to locate a new location in Greenville. In order to be consistent, its machines (the adult game rooms in particular) – would have to be seized.
Also, McDonald’s is restarting its Monopoly game – with prizes up to $1 million. And Bingo parlors across the state are openly awarding money in exchange for games of chance. All of these operations would need to be shut down as well, if SLED is to be consistent.
Rather than implementing a sensible policy regarding electronic games based on clearly defined criteria, Keel is continuing to selectively enforce state law – one of many recent problems at SLED under his “leadership.” And that’s only make our state’s hypocrisy on the gambling issue worse …