February 7, 2013

Horry County Notebook | The issue of sweepstakes businesses

The Horry County Infrastructure and Regulation Committee wants more time to consider any possible changes to the zoning ordinance as it pertains to sweepstakes businesses.

The Horry County Infrastructure and Regulation Committee wants more time to consider any possible changes to the zoning ordinance as it pertains to sweepstakes businesses.

Planning and Zoning director Janet Carter asked the committee Thursday for guidance when dealing with these businesses, which offer online gaming with cash payouts and have been deemed illegal by state solicitors and magistrates.

The county offers no licenses to anyone applying to operate a sweepstakes business.

As the issue moves through the courts concerning the legality of sweepstakes businesses, Carter said one course of action for the county is to put in place a moratorium. That means sweepstakes businesses would still not be allowed in Horry County even if the state legislature deemed it legal tomorrow.

With a moratorium in place, the county would have the time to decide the proper course of action as to how to govern those businesses if they were ultimately deemed legal.

“We’d be taking a wait-and-see approach and studying the issue simultaneously,” Carter said.

She added that she doesn’t foresee the legislature heading toward legalizing them.

Carter brought the issue before I&R in an effort to get ahead of the matter as the state’s higher courts consider it. Magistrates across South Carolina have disagreed on the legality of the sweepstakes machines, according to a briefing memorandum given to the I&R committee.

Another option Carter discussed was having the county’s governing body consider an amendment to the zoning ordinance to have in place if sweepstakes businesses were deemed legal.

She said the county took a similar approach before tattoo parlors were legalized, and the ordinance deemed exactly where those businesses could be zoned.

The issue will be taken up at the next I&R committee meeting, which is not currently scheduled. If a recommendation came out of the committee, it would then go before the full County Council for consideration.

In recent weeks, Horry County law enforcement has cracked down on businesses operating sweepstakes machines.

On Jan. 15, officers and State Law Enforcement Division agents went to Magic Minutes – licensed as a cell phone retail store – on Carolina Forest Boulevard and seized 21 screens, one tower, one monitor and more than $600, Horry County Police Chief Saundra Rhodes previously said. The same day, police went to Alpha Omega Computers – licensed for computer repairs – on U.S. 17 Business near Surfside Beach where 37 screens, 21 towers and more than $1,400 were seized.

On Jan. 17, 21 computers were seized from the 5 Star Internet Café Sweepstakes on North Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach.

Road work pushed back

Looks like the S.C. 707 extension and S.C. 31 widening won’t happen this summer.

That was the latest update from Steve Gosnell, director of Horry County Infrastructure and Regulation.

Mike Barbee, with the S.C. Department of Transportation, previously said the hopes were to finish the permitting process, get it to contract by the spring or summer and then begin construction by late summer.

Gosnell said Thursday it looks like the earliest the project could get underway is the fall.

He added that delays came once the two projects were combined by the Corps of Engineers. Gosnell said before that happened, the work could have started two years ago. Now, it’s cost an additional $650,000 for the permitting process.

“We are where we are,” Gosnell said.

Once work gets underway, he anticipates the three-year project will see a $15 to $20 million increase in construction costs.

The S.C. 31 extension is budgeted around $215 million, Barbee said. The S.C. 707 widening has a current price tag between $85 and $95 million.

Mike Wooten the DOT’s new commissioner for the 7th District, blames project delays like this on groups like environmental organizations intervening on the permitting process and threatening lawsuits.

S.C. 707 will be widened to five lanes from Enterprise Road to U.S. 17 Bypass at Murrells Inlet, while the S.C. 31 extension will run from S.C. 544 down to S.C. 707.

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