COLUMBIA — The owner of an Internet sweepstakes cafe in Sumter has filed a federal lawsuit challenging authorities' right to raid his businesses.
In court documents filed this week, Terry Eddie Land, 49, said the State Law Enforcement Division and Sumter County Sheriff Anthony Dennis violated his right to free speech when they seized his machines in a raid earlier this year. The seizures also constitute “selective, inequitable, and discriminatory treatment” of his business activities, according to the lawsuit.
State court records show that charges of operating an illegal gambling house against Land are still pending.
The new machines look similar to ones outlawed by lawmakers 12 years ago, a ban that followed a decade of debate over a $3 billion industry many called the “crack cocaine of gambling.” And, like video poker machines once were, they can be found in places like convenience stores.
But the devices' proponents – like former SLED Chief Reggie Lloyd, who is also Land's attorney – say that, while they may look like the banned machines, they are really more akin to contests offered by stores, grocers and even the McDonald's restaurant chain, whose “Monopoly” game offers the chance to win cash and merchandise.
The sweepstakes devices sell a product, like long-distance phone cards or Internet service, and then offer customers a chance to uncover potential prizes, like free merchandise, by clicking through to a new screen.
With video poker, the amount that a player could possibly win wasn't a certainty and changed each time. With the new machines, because the prize is something concrete, instead of an unknown amount of cash, the new devices are legal under current state law, according to Lloyd.
“Whether any particular sweepstake or promotional contest entry is a winner or not is determined at the time that entry is picked from the finite pool of entries,” according to Land's lawsuit.
Local judges across South Carolina have issued conflicting rulings over whether the sweepstakes machines violate the state prohibition on video gambling. Lawmakers have discussed banning the new machines, but legislation is still pending.
A SLED spokeswoman did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the lawsuit Wednesday. Chief Mark Keel has previously said he has fielded calls from local police and sheriffs worried that the new machines heralded a resurgence of video poker.
“I put them on notice that we were going to begin enforcing these statutes again, and if there were video gaming machines in these locations, and they were deemed to be illegal, they were going to be subject to having these machines seized,” Keel told The Associated Press in February. “The word started getting out that we were back in business.”