Authorities: Video poker making ‘back door’ return to SC

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – Within the past two weeks, Kershaw County authorities have seized 10 video machines that the Attorney General and State Law Enforcement Division agents consider illegal video poker machines. But, the company behind the machines says they're legal and plan to fight for their machines in court.

Wednesday morning, Kershaw County deputies stopped on a truck on Interstate 20 for a traffic violation. During a roadside investigation, deputies found four video gaming machines that investigators confiscated as illegal poker machines, according to sheriff Jim Matthews.

SLED, Kershaw County and the Attorney General's office continue investigating the machines and from where they came.

On Jan. 26, Kershaw County deputies raided two convenience stores and seized six illegal poker machines. Using an undercover investigator, deputies went into the West Oil Markette on Highway 1 in Lugoff. Deputies took the machines and have charges pending.

The same night, deputies hit the C and M Market on Highway 1 in Elgin. Inside, investigators said they found two poker machines disguised as a calling cards vending machines. The machines had labels that read "Magic Minutes," and advertised the sale of phone minutes with the option to play various poker games. The machines allowed the player to receive cash payouts.

Inside one of the machines, investigators found three $100 bills.

"These machines are nothing more than the old Pot O' Gold machines," Kershaw County investigator Jamey Jones said. "If you take these Magic Minutes stickers off, you can see this is the Lucky Sweepstakes Pot O' Gold," Jones said. The machines, according to Jones, were repurposed illegal gaming machines that use a calling card purchase as a front to play outlawed video poker.

"It's clearly a scam," Kershaw County sheriff Jim Matthews said, "There is a huge amount of money behind this whole thing. There's a lot of influence peddling going on in a lot of areas; including law enforcement. And, what they have done is taken an old video poker machine, they've put a new box on it, they put some stickers on it to say this is not a gambling machine and that's supposed to make it legal."

The Magic Minutes business admits their machines are one of the ones confiscated by sheriff's departments across the state. The problems started in Horry County back in August and several Magic Minutes' machines have been confiscated in Darlington, Chesterfield, Florence, Richland and Lexington Counties.

By law, any video gaming machines that law enforcement thinks violates the state's poker machine ban, a magistrate had to inspect the machine and determine whether it's a legal gaming machine. Magic Minutes' owners have magistrates' opinions from all counties, finding Magic Minutes' machines comply with the video poker laws.

That's until last week when an Horry County magistrate took a look at a Magic Minutes machine and ruled that the machine was a illegal video poker machine. It's the first ruling against Magic Minutes.

Now, Magic Minutes is waiting on another test in Kershaw County on the latest round of machines, which were seized Jan. 26. A Kershaw County magistrate signed an order on August 2, 2011, finding that the particular Magic Minutes machine he inspected was not an illegal poker machine.

Another magistrate will make the call on the latest machines. A court date has not been set yet.

"Our intention is not at all to try to legalize gambling," Magic Minutes owner LW Flynn told WIS. Flynn founded the company, with his wife Kathy listed as the co-owner. Flynn is a former 5th Solicitor's Circuit investigator under former solicitor Barney Giese and Mrs. Flynn is a former Richland County K9 officer under sheriff Leon Lott.

"I made sure with everyone that I could that what I was doing was not illegal at all," Flynn said. Flynn's machines allow a user to purchase phone minutes, then gives the player a chance to play various "sweepstakes" games. The games are poker-based "games of chance," which are forbidden under the state's video poker ban.

Flynn hired Columbia attorneys, Lir Derieg, and Josh Kendrick to fight his business' court battles. Flynn and Derieg worked together under Giese's office in Kershaw County, until Giese decided to give up his office in 2010.

"You buy long distance, you can never lose that long distance; you can never lose your money," Derieg told WIS. Derieg said Flynn's machines merely offer "promotional games" customers can play, only if they choose to once they purchase long distance minutes. Once a player enters a game, he cannot add additional money to the game, as you would with a traditional poker machine.

Derieg admits Magic Minutes' machines do offer players a chance to enter "games of chance," which state law prohibits, but likens them to McDonald's Monopoly promotions ."If you get a Coke out of a Coke machine and you unscrew the cap to see if you won a free Coke or $10, that's a game of chance, sweepstakes are a game of chance."

"It started feeling too good to be true and you know, it was just too good to be true," Josh Davis told WIS. Davis owns Doc's Old Country Store on Highway 34 near Camden. Davis had a Magic Minutes machine inside his store in January, but a couple weeks ago, he told Magic Minutes to "get it out of this store."

"They came in and said; hey we've got a money-making deal. It's 100 percent legal, showed me a court order and it was a way to make money, so I went with it," Davis said. The deal allowed Davis to pay Magic Minutes a weekly fee of $100, and a share of the money the machine made.

"It paid out. I'd say the largest payout I made from this machine was around $300 and people knew what this machine was all about," Davis told WIS, "They sure weren't in here buying phone minutes, I can assure you of that."

Davis turned his machine in after hearing of court cases cropping up around the state and store owners being charged with having them. "Everything looked legit, everything looked great on it, but there was still something fishy about it. It looked great on paper, but it didn't smell too great," Davis said.

Magic Minutes' machines are in stores across the state. The company hands out a "legal packet" to store owners, containing the orders where magistrates have ruled in favor of the machines.

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