Federal suit filed over 'sweepstakes' machine raid

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Federal suit filed over 'sweepstakes' machine raid

The (Columbia) State
Published Wednesday, August 1, 2012   |  650 Words  |  

A Sumter Internet sweepstakes operator has filed a federal lawsuit against the state's top law enforcement officer and the Sumter County sheriff, saying his constitutional rights were violated when those agencies raided and shut down his business.

The lawsuit will be another legal test in the ongoing clash between those who operate the new Internet sweepstakes centers and public officials who maintain they're illegal.

Internet sweepstakes cafes have been popping up across the state this year as operators challenge South Carolina's gambling laws, but most of the cases have been fought at the magistrate level of state courts.

In Beaufort County, Magistrate Darlene Smith ruled in February that state law bans sweepstakes machines.

The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office raided three businesses featuring the games last year, seizing the computers made by HEST Technologies that customers used to play sweepstakes games for cash and prizes -- later donating some to charity.

Attempts to reach HEST Technologies president Chris Canard for comment on the federal lawsuit were unsuccessful Wednesday.

The suit also pits State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel against his predecessor, Reggie Lloyd, the agency's former director, who's working on behalf of the owner of the Internet sweepstakes operations in Sumter County.

Lloyd said he brought the federal challenge because he is seeking a definitive ruling on the issue.

The lawsuit filed Monday stems from a July 13 raid on Gamecock Sweepstakes 2, an Internet cafe owned by Terry Eddie Land. Land was charged with operating an illegal gambling house, and officers seized 40 computers. The raid forced Land to shutter his other business, Gamecock Sweepstakes 1 in Sumter.

Land said Tuesday that without a definitive ruling in South Carolina he has a right to run the businesses -- especially after paying $20,000 for licenses to operate in Sumter County.

"We need to ... teach them that they can't come and lock people up over something that's not illegal," Land said.

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson's office issued a statement vowing "to defend the South Carolina Constitution and laws that prohibit Internet sweepstakes games . . ."

Keel's office also pledged to continue enforcing the law.

In the lawsuit, Lloyd maintains that the arrest and seizure violated the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law. The state and police are applying arbitrary and undefined standards to enforce gambling laws, and some magistrates and state courts have ruled that the businesses are legal, the suit said.

Lloyd said he expects others to join his lawsuit or to file similar complaints in federal court.

Lloyd and Land are asking that a jury award an unspecified amount in damages for the loss of business. And Land said he hopes a punitive judgment is given to punish law enforcement that has been too aggressive.

Reporter Allison Stice contributed to this article.

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