COLUMBIA — L.W. Flynn, a former 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office investigator and onetime Kershaw County sheriff candidate who created the Magic Minutes gaming machines, was charged Thursday in Spartanburg County with possessing illegal gambling machines.
Officers arrested Flynn, 37, on an outstanding arrest warrant Thursday after a hearing in an Horry County magistrate’s court regarding the legality of his machines, Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Ivey said.
Flynn, the owner of Magic Minutes gaming machines, has publicly asserted the machines’ legality, saying state law allows what are called sweepstakes games.
Magic Minutes offers long-distance calling cards and gives buyers the chance to win cash prizes after playing casino-style games. The machines have been ruled illegal gambling devices in several counties across the state but also have won approval in other court hearings. Under state law, each machine seized must be judged individually by a magistrate.
Magic Minutes machines were ruled illegal in Spartanburg County on May 24 by Magistrate Donnie Williams, according to a Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office report. Two of the machines were seized in February 2012 during a raid at the Pine Street Party Shop, east of Spartanburg.
During proceedings, Flynn testified that he created and owned the machines. Based on that, Spartanburg County deputies obtained an arrest warrant for him on March 25.
Flynn was booked Thursday into the Spartanburg County Detention Facility and released on a $2,000 bond.
Flynn’s arrest appears to be the first since S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley on March 22 signed into law a bill that strengthened the state’s 2000 ban on video poker to include sweepstakes machines such as Magic Minutes.
Before the signing, law enforcement agencies around the state had seized the machines under the 2000 ban. But magistrates issued conflicting rulings when the machines were brought before them in court. Most of the seizures have been civil matters in which county magistrates would rule the machines illegal and have them destroyed.
But the state code of laws also includes a provision for criminal prosecution for anyone who possesses the machines. A person convicted of possession of an illegal gambling machine, a misdemeanor, could be sentenced to up to a year in prison and $500 in fines for each machine seized.
Flynn formed Magic Minutes in 2010 and co-owns the business with his wife. He once told The State newspaper that he built most of the machines in his garage and took steps to make sure they complied with state law.
He has argued that using a Magic Minutes machine is not gambling because customers received a product for their money. Gambling, he has said, means a person pays money with no guarantee of winning or receiving a product.
The machines can be found in convenience stores and some bars. The company advertises itself as selling long-distance phone time for 6 cents per minute. After customers slide their money into the machine, they are given a receipt with a toll-free number and a code to allow them phone time.
Then, the customer is allowed to play video poker, slots or keno for a chance to win prizes.
“Magic Minutes provides businesses a proven, necessary product with a fun and amusing twist,” according to the Magic Minutes website.
However, law enforcement officials have said in the past that the toll-free number does not work. During a February raid at an Eastover nightclub, Richland County sheriff’s deputies confiscated Magic Minutes machines after putting money into them and then calling the toll-free number only to hear a recording that the service was not available.
Magic Minutes spent $15,500 between June 1 and Dec. 31 on lobbying expenses at the Legislature, according to the S.C. Elections Commission website. Magic Minutes has donated to political campaigns.
Before creating Magic Minutes, Flynn was a special investigator with the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office for 15 years. He ran for sheriff in Kershaw County in 2010 but was defeated by Jim Matthews in a Republican primary.