COLUMBIA -- And you thought playing skee ball was innocent, family-friendly entertainment.
House lawmakers conceded this week that "games of chance," such as skee ball, roulette-style games and the crane game (where players attempt to scoop up prizes by maneuvering a crane hook) are illegal under state gambling laws.
The games are popular at amusement centers such as Chuck E. Cheese's and Frankie's Fun Park.
But lawmakers killed a bill that would have legalized them because authorities believe the bill would have opened a door for video poker, too.
"If it managed to get through the House, I was waiting on it in the Senate," said Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, one of South Carolina's most outspoken opponents of video poker. "If I didn't have the votes to kill it, I'd filibuster it. This is that detrimental to the state."
Making it legal for machines to give out prizes -- even if the prizes are stuffed animals -- is inviting trouble, Hayes said.
"That's how they sold video poker in the first place," he said. "They said this is just a little machine. Trouble is, if you have machines you can win prizes on ... there are going to be payouts under the table all over the place."
The bill came from Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland. Similar games are becoming increasingly common at bars where patrons play via video screens but cannot win prizes or cash payouts.
Rutherford said he's concerned that police do not enforce state gambling laws in children's spots but do in bars.
"What I want is for the law to be clear," Rutherford said. "Let's allow (games of chance) or not. Don't allow it for some and not for others."
Bar owners such as Kelly Whitlock, owner of Kelly's Deli & Pub in the Vista and The Loose Cockaboose in south Columbia, said she's not worried if Frankie's Fun Park is getting an easier ride than she.
"I think kids should be able to play little games like that," she said. "I hope they don't go to Frankie's Fun Park and take away their fun. It's just like the fair. We all played those games as kids."
Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Richland, agreed that games of chance are illegal, even in kids' spots, but argued there is little need for enforcement.
"If you do it with a teddy bear as a prize, technically, it's still gambling," Harrison said. "But law enforcement has to set priorities. Nobody has seen any urgency for law enforcement to go into those (children's) locations. In fact, you often spend more at Chuck E. Cheese's trying to win that teddy bear than the teddy bear is worth."
Harrison and other lawmakers honed in on how the bill would clear the way for a re-emergence of video poker, which was made illegal in South Carolina in 2000.
Harrison said he's met with officials from both SLED and the state attorney general's office who agree the bill would allow for video poker. House lawmakers voted to "continue" the bill, which effectively kills it for the year.