SC magistrate sides with sweepstakes company targeted by police for alleged illegal gambling

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SC magistrate sides with sweepstakes company targeted by police for alleged illegal gambling

By GRANT MARTIN
gmartin@islandpacket.com
Published Tuesday, December 20, 2011   |  515 Words  |  

A Georgetown County magistrate recently ruled that machines used in an establishment shut down by police are compliant with state law and not devices for illegal gambling.

Earlier this month, Chief Magistrate Isaac L. Pyatt Sr. issued an order in favor of Texas-based HEST Technologies, which manufactures machines that the company maintains are used for sweepstakes operations to generate money for charity.

Between June and October, police raided and shut down four establishments in Beaufort and Jasper counties that used the software, suspecting they were havens for illegal gambling.

Charges against HEST for their operations in Beaufort County are pending. Attorneys representing the company asked for a delay in its case earlier this fall.

Pyatt's order stemmed from charges of illegal gaming prosecuted by the state in a Sept. 26 raid of a similar establishment in Georgetown County.

"The defendant's sweepstakes contests and HEST Sweepstakes Management System ... as well as the hardware and software that accompany the ... system are in full compliance with and are legal under South Carolina law," Pyatt wrote.

A spokeswoman for the Georgetown County Sheriff's Office said the state has appealed the decision to a circuit court, though attempts Tuesday to confirm that with the state Attorney General's Office were unsuccessful.

After an October raid in which 24 HEST computers were confiscated, Hardeeville Police Chief Richard Nagy said "customers would pay cash and receive tokens to play games of chance."

But in his ruling, Chief Magistrate Pyatt offered several reasons why the machines do not violate state law, among them that they do not dispense or accept currency or tokens. Neither does the machine include software or a random-number generator that determines the outcome, Pyatt wrote.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner maintained the HEST operations his deputies raided were illegal.

"We're comfortable with the cases we made in Beaufort County (against HEST); they were thoroughly investigated," he said, adding that an officer used a machine to earn a profit during an undercover investigation.

"It's not unusual for magistrates throughout South Carolina to have differences of opinion," Tanner added.

No date has been set for his office's charges against HEST. "We are very excited about the conclusions reached by the court," HEST president Chris Canard said in a statement. "We will be working with law enforcement to promote the understanding of what is a legal sweepstakes, and just as importantly, what is not legal and why."

Canard disclosed few details of those plans in a telephone interview Tuesday. He said he is unsure if the company will reopen Beaufort and Jasper county establishments that were shut down.

Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

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