SC

Seized Machine Case Could Upend South Carolina’s Video Poker Ban

Judge shuts down law enforcement …

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The South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) is appealing a magistrate’s ruling that struck down the agency’s recent seizure of a video pinball game – a case which could wind up having far-reaching ramifications on the ongoing debate over video poker and other forms of gambling in the Palmetto State.

According to a filing submitted last month, SLED’s general counsel – Adam L. Whitsett – appealed a ruling reached on August 17, 2023 by Jeffrey P. Bloom, a magistrate in Calhoun County, S.C.

Bloom inherited this dispute – which pits the state law enforcement agency against the manufacturer of a video pinball machine – after every single magistrate in Richland County recused themselves from the case.

That’s right … every last one.

The drama began on April 20, 2022 when SLED agents conducted an alcohol inspection at Tavern on Broad, a private bar located at 7949 Broad River Road in Irmo, S.C. During their inspection, agents seized a pinball machine from the premises. According to court filings, SLED agents believed the pinball machine “to be an illegal gaming device on which individuals gambled and received cash payouts at the bar.”

The following day, a Richland County magistrate issued an order of destruction for the device – which allegedly ran afoul of state laws banning video poker machines.

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Bloom overturned both SLED’s seizure of the “Montana De Luxe 2” game, a 9-in-1 entertainment device, as well as the order authorizing its destruction. The Montana De Luxe 2 is billed by its manufacturers as “the most famous bingo (game) in the country,” one which includes “optimized security features, top-quality design and state-of-the-art gaming technologies” so as to provide “an unforgettable gaming experience for bingo players.”

According to the judge, it is also legal to operate in South Carolina – much to the chagrin of SLED.

“The court finds and concludes that this machine is a mechanical pinball device,” he wrote. “As such, it is exempted by S.C. supreme court case law and statutes.”

According to Bloom, The Montana De Luxe 2 fits the definition of an “in-line pin or non-payout pin table game,” a category of game expressly exempted from seizure or destruction per the prohibitions established in S.C. Code of Laws § 12-21-2710.

“The backboard, or upright portion of the pinball machine which shows the different game options and scoring is in video format,” Bloom noted in his exhaustive ruling (.pdf). “But the game itself is a mechanical pinball machine. It is not a video game. The backboard lights up and has video game features. But the backboard does not control any part of the game.”

SLED, not surprisingly, disagreed. In its notice of appeal filed on September 18, 2023, Whitsett claimed Bloom “mischaracterized the machine’s operating features,” among other errors, erroneously concluding “it was not a video game.”

(Click to View)

Display of a ‘Montana De Luxe 2’ video screen. (Bingo Pinballs)

Based on these arguments, SLED is asking the S.C. fifth judicial circuit to “reverse the decision of the magistrate and find that the machine on which unlawful gambling was engaged is in violation of (the law) and should be forfeited and destroyed.” It is not immediately clear which fifth circuit judge will receive the case – or whether there will be a wave of recusals similar to what transpired at the magistrate level in Richland County.

Bigger picture? It is not immediately clear how this case could impact the Palmetto State’s decades-long prohibition against video poker – an industry which continues operating in the shadows.

Video poker is illegal in South Carolina – and has been for nearly a quarter of a century.  It was effectively outlawed by order of the S.C. Supreme Court in October 1999 (a decision I believe to have been reached erroneously). Specifically, the court’s justices blocked a referendum that would have given Palmetto State residents the right to vote on video poker’s legality.

While I believe South Carolinians should have been allowed to vote on this issue … the S.C. General Assembly is clearly authorized to approve whatever gambling operations it wishes. Unfortunately, sanctimonious state lawmakers continue to rail against the ‘evils’ of gambling as they simultaneously run a state-sanctioned gambling ring (a.k.a. the S.C. Education Lottery).

“These elected officials have no ideological mooring, just a desire to expand government control – and government revenue,” I noted in a piece a few years back.

Indeed, video poker was banned in South Carolina mere months before the lottery was enacted – a transparent bid by the government to eliminate any competition to its own gambling operations. For years, I have criticized the state’s ongoing prohibition on gambling as nothing more than an attempt to uphold its gambling monopoly. My news outlet has called for this prohibition to be lifted on multiple occasions – and in multiple ways.

Thus far, lawmakers have refused to do so …

Count on this media outlet to keep our audience up to speed on the very latest developments in this case, in which SLED is going up against attorneys Dick Harpootlian, Jim Griffin and Frank B. McMaster, brother of governor Henry McMaster, all of whom represent the owner of the machine.

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THE FILING …

(Via: Saluda County, South Carolina)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Will Folks (Dylan Nolan)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven (soon to be eight) children.

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3 comments

Avatar photo
The Colonel Top fan October 12, 2023 at 11:07 pm

Video Poker the sport of the trailer park set! They ought to revise the law so that law enforcement officers would be required to immediately destroy the damn things when and where found! (Yes, I know that’d be illegal, I’m being hyperbolic)

Video poker was a blight on South Carolina when it was legal and the thought that it’s sliming its ugly head back into the state is as disturbing as the woman in curlers, with two inches of ash on her menthol, sitting on the stool at the Zippy Mart, spending her grocery money and getting excited when she wins ten after blowing fifty in the effing thing…

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Can't Quit Now, I'm Winnin'! October 13, 2023 at 9:03 am

I’d love to see a social experiment where they rig one of these things to pay out $1,000 just to see how long it takes for them to dump every penny back into the machine.

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Nonie Sanders April 16, 2024 at 11:53 am

The prejudice in comments above is disgusting and wrong. My brothers and mom and I would have a lovely time a couple of nights a month taking mom out to bingo and video poker afterwards. We played at VFW posts. If we didn’t win at least we spent a pleasant few hours together. When they shut down the games she spent time in solitude with scratch offs instead of out in the world socializing. SC lottery is gambling that does nothing but put more money in the pockets of rich. Let the little people have some fun again. Keep fighting for our rights to spend our cash as we see fit. Plus the money supposedly going to education is funding chairs in overpriced colleges not grade schools where it’s needed.

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