LIBERTY — When South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) shut down an upcoming riverboat casino themed fundraiser for Pickens County Meals on Wheels, they potentially impacted the ways in which other non-profits can raise money in the future, based on an opinion from the S.C. Attorney General’s office.
Previously, charities and other non-profit organizations were able to host such nights without the fear of legal ramifications. Events were organized in such a way where as long as participants weren’t actually winning any money or prizes, it was fine.
However, the shuttering of PCMOW’s event scheduled for Nov. 4 could have changed all that.
” … if individuals choose to proceed with such an event despite the warnings of law enforcement, they do so at their peril,” read a recent opinion from the Attorney General’s office written by Assistant Attorney General David S. Jones.
S.C. Code 33-57-100 (C) (2) states: “No person shall conduct a fundraising event commonly known and operated as a ‘casino night,’ ‘Las Vegas night,’ or ‘Monte Carlo night’ involving live individuals playing roulette, blackjack, baccarat, or other card games, or dice games, unless the event is conducted only for entertainment purposes and no prizes, financial rewards, or incentives are received by players.’”
Attorney Les Hendricks of The Hendricks Firm, LLC, who is representing PCMOW, argued the last part of the code, “no prizes, financial rewards, or incentives are received by players” was met — PCMOW’s fundraiser participants were going to be playing with an unlimited number of chips that carried no monetary value.
In short? No prizes or cash could be won by players.
The AG’s office disagreed.
“The fact that players are provided with ‘unlimited chips’ does not obviate the fact that the games determine winners and losers by chance and presumably reallocate chips between players and the house, or between the players themselves,” the opinion read. “Where a player who completely runs out of chips may obtain more on demand from the house, the organizer of the event has not avoided the institution of an illegal lottery. Instead, they have merely compounded participation in it.”
Unwilling to take the case to court and risk possibly damaging Meals on Wheels’ reputation, the organization instead was forced to scrap its plans, much to the event organizers’ dismay — and community outrage.
“A legal opinion from the Attorney General’s office is just that — an opinion,” said Hendricks. “However, it does carry weight. I would think future non-profits would hesitate before attempting to hold their own casino-themed fundraisers.”
Hendricks said although the opinion does not create legal precedent in the state, in can be cited as evidence.
“To have a precedent, you have to have a case,” he said. “An order would come out and whichever way it went, that would be the precedent,” he said.
Although not precedent, an AG’s opinion isn’t exactly something one just ignores either, he said.
“It’s still an authority you can quote,” explained Hendricks. “And law enforcement officials often act on that opinion — such was the case with (PCMOW’s) casino night. Had we gone ahead with the fundraiser as advertised and arraigned, I have no doubt SLED would have shut us down.”
Hendricks also said officials threatened to confiscate any of the roulette, blackjack and craps tables as “contraband.”
“I was blown away,” he said. “I really thought at some point common sense would prevail here, but that just wasn’t the case.”
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.