South Carolina              
Administrative Law Court
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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

CAPTION:
SCDOR vs. Mr. Quick Foods, Inc., d/b/a Chances Games, et al

AGENCY:
South Carolina Department of Revenue

PARTIES:
Petitioners:
South Carolina Department of Revenue

Respondents:
Mr. Quick Foods, Inc., d/b/a Chances Games, and d/b/a Gamexpress Amusements
 
DOCKET NUMBER:
97-ALJ-17-0056-CC

APPEARANCES:
For the Petitioner: Nicholas P. Sipe, Esquire

For the Respondent: James M. Griffin, Esquire
 

ORDERS:

FINAL DECISION

STATEMENT OF CASE


This matter comes before me upon request for a hearing by the Respondent after being cited for violating S.C. Code Ann. § 12-21-2804 (A)(Supp. 1996). The South Carolina Department of Revenue (Department) contends that the Respondent operated more than five video poker machines in a "single place or premises." A hearing was held before the Administrative Law Judge Division on May 28, 1997.

I find the Respondent violated Section 12-21-2804 (A).

FINDINGS OF FACT


Having observed the witnesses and exhibits presented at the hearing and closely passed upon their credibility, taking into consideration the burden of persuasion by the Parties, I make the following Findings of Fact by a preponderance of evidence:

1. Notice of the time, date, place and subject matter of the Hearing was given to the Petitioner and the Respondent.

2. The Department issued a violation report against Darrell Starnes/Gamexpress Amusements on June 13, 1996, charging Starnes with having more than five machines in a "single place or premises." The Department later amended the violation to include Mr. Quick Foods, Inc., and at the hearing, the parties agreed to remove Darrell Starnes as a party. The Department offered no evidence as to whether each business had a separate electric meter, business license or a State sales tax license. Rather, the sole issue for determination is whether the Respondent violated S.C. Code Regs. § 117-190 (Supp. 1996) by not having "at least one separate employee on the premises during business hours."

3. On June 13, 1996, Revenue Officer Suzy McConnell, conducted an investigation of the business known as Chances located at 2278 Savannah Highway, Charleston, South Carolina. Within the structure of Chances were five video game rooms operated as Red Chips; High Roller; Jack Potts; Dubble Down; and Annie Up.

4. Game rooms Red Chips, High Roller, and Dubble Down were open for business. However, I find that the Department failed to prove that game rooms Annie Up and Jack Potts were open. Though the lights and machines were on in the rooms, there were no customers present in either room and a small sign was posted on the door frames of both Annie Up and Jack Potts stating that the rooms were closed. Furthermore, I find Darrell Starnes's testimony persuasive in this case that the doors were open only to allow air flow to the central air conditioning unit.

5. Each of the three open game rooms contained five video game machines. The fifteen (15) Class III machines licences located in the above businesses were owned by Mr. Quick Foods, Inc., and the businesses were operated by Mr. Quick Foods, Inc. The following video game machine licenses were located in the respective game rooms:

High Roller: Red Chips: Dubble Down: 038906 038858 038892

038847 038902 038891

3807549 3807550 038840

038846 040114 038876

038854 038859 038855

6. There were no employees on the premises of any of the open game rooms. There was one employee working at the payout center in a commons area, but that employee had not been assigned to any specific premises.

7. The Department seeks a Five Thousand ($5,000.00) Dollar assessment against Mr. Quick Foods, Inc.

8. The Respondent failed to have employees assigned to service the open game rooms. In fact though the Respondent had three open game rooms, there was only one employee upon the premises. I find therefore that the Respondent violated S.C. Code Ann. § 12-21-2804(A) by failing to have "at least one separate employee" in each of the open game rooms. I further find that the appropriate fine in this case is a Two Thousand ($2,000.00) Dollars fine for each violation.





CONCLUSIONS OF LAW


Based upon the above Findings of Fact, I conclude as a matter of law, the following:

1. The Administrative Law Judge Division has jurisdiction to hear this matter pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 12-4-30 (D) (Supp. 1996) and S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-320 (Supp. 1996).

2. The Department contends that the Respondent violated S.C. Code Ann. § 12-21-2804(A)(Supp. 1996). That section provides:

After July 1, 1994, the commission [Department] may not issue nor authorize to be maintained any licenses or permits for more than five machines authorized under Section 12-21-2720(A)(3) at a single place or premises.

3. Machines licensed under Section 12-21-2720(A)(3) include video games with a free play feature operated by a slot in which a coin or thing of value is deposited. S.C. Code Ann. § 12-21-2720 (Supp. 1996).

4. S.C. Code Ann. § 12-21-2804(A) (Supp.1996) states that the penalty for failing to comply with the maximum number of machines in a "single place or premises" is the revocation of the licenses of machines located in the establishment.

5. S.C. Code Ann. § 12-21-2804(F) (Supp. 1996) states that a person who violates Section 12-21-2804(A) may be fined up to Five Thousand Dollars.

6. The Video Game Machines Act ("Act") does not define the term "single place or premises."

7. The Honorable G. Ross Anderson held that the term "single place or premises" is "sufficiently defined and susceptible of a common and ordinary meaning to provide a person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable notice of the prescribed conduct." Reyelt et al. v. South Carolina Tax Commission, CA No. 6: 93-1491-3 (D.S.C. July 5, 1994). On June 23, 1995, S.C. Code Regs. 117-190 (Supp. 1996) became effective. It provides as follows:

The Video Game Machines Act, found in Article 20, Chapter 21 of Title 12, limits the number of machines that may be located in a "single place" or "premises."

A single place or premises must be a fixed location. It does not include moving property such as a boat or a train, unless such property is permanently affixed to a specific location.

A "single place" or "premises" means a structure surrounded by exterior walls or firewalls consistent with the requirements of the applicable building code (or where no building code is applicable, a one hour rated firewall), provided such exterior walls and firewalls may not have any windows, doors or other openings leading to another area where video game machines are located.

If a structure surrounded by exterior walls has two or more areas where video game machines are located, each surrounded by exterior walls or firewalls as defined and required above, the Department must review all the facts and circumstances to determine if each area in reality constitutes a single place or premise for video game machines. In determining whether each entity is in fact a single place or premises, the Department of Revenue will consider the following factors: (1) Does each entity have at least one separate electric utility meter? (2) Does each entity or business have at least one separate employee on the premises during business hours? (3) Does each entity or business have a separate local business license where required? (4) Does each entity or business have a separate state sales tax license? A positive answer to these four questions is required for each area to be considered a "single place or premise" for purposes of The Video Game Machines Act.

8. Regulation 117-190 requires that each business must have a separate employee on the premises while the business is open. The cardinal rule of statutory interpretation is to ascertain and effectuate the legislative intent wherever possible. Bankers Trust of South Carolina v. Bruce, 275 S.C. 35, 267 S.E.2d 424 (1980). "Full effect must be given to each section of a statute, giving words their plain meaning, and, in the absence of ambiguity, words must not be added or taken away." Hartford Accident and Indem. Co. v. Lindsay, 273 S.C. 79, 254 S.E.2d 301, 304 (S.C. 1979). Thus, the phrase "on the premise" presumptively must have meaning. In this case, the Respondent testified that the employee at the location was not specifically assigned to any of the open businesses. The employees of a video poker business must be sufficiently connected to an open video game room as to indicate that each game room that is open for business has a specific employee assigned to work solely in that room. I find that since the Respondent's video poker businesses did not have employees specifically assigned to each open game room, the above three game rooms were not single places or premises.

9. It is a generally recognized principle of administrative law that the fact finder has the authority to impose an administrative penalty after the parties have had an opportunity to have a hearing and be heard on the issues. See Ohio Real Estate Comm'n v. Aqua Sun Investments, 655 N.E. 2d 266 (Ohio 1995); Shadow Lake of Noel, Inc. v. Supervisor of Liquor Control, 893 S.W. 2d 835 (Mo. App. S.D. 1995); Matter of Henry Youth Hockey Ass'n, 511 N.W. 2d 452 (Minn. App. 1994); Vermont Agency of Natural Resources v. Duranleau, 617 A.2d 143 (Vt. 1992); City of Louisville v. Milligan, 798 S.W. 2d 454 (Ky. 1990); Com., Dept. of Transp. v. Slipp, 550 A.2d 838 (Pa. 1988); Dept. of Transp. v. Miller, 528 A.2d 1030 (Pa. 1987); State Police v. Cantina Gloria's, 639 A. 2d 14 (Pa. 1994).

Prior to governmental restructuring, a commission, sitting in its adjudicatory capacity imposed penalties for violations of statutory provisions administered by the Commission's subordinate agency. In its capacity as the fact-finder, the Tax Commission would conduct an adjudicatory hearing in all contested cases arising under Title 12 of the South Carolina Code, and would render an order containing findings of fact and conclusions of law. As the fact-finder, it was the commission's prerogative "to impose the appropriate penalty based on the facts presented." Walker v. South Carolina ABC Comm'n, 305 S.C. 209, 407 S.E.2d 633, 634 (1991). With the advent of restructuring and the abolition of the Tax Commission, however, the Administrative Law Judge Division was given the authority to hear "all contested cases, as defined by Section 1-23-310 and as previously considered by the three [Tax] commissioners. . . ." S.C. Code Ann. §12-4-30(D) (Supp. 1996). The Administrative Law Judge, as the current fact-finder, must also impose a penalty based on the facts presented at the contested case hearing. Parties are entitled to present evidence on all issues arising out of the contested agency action and the tribunal responsible for conducting the contested case proceedings has the authority to decide the issues based on the facts presented, and make the final decisions on all the issues, including the appropriate penalty.

ORDER


Based upon the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, it is hereby:

ORDERED that the licenses listed in Finding of Fact number five are revoked, and a fine of Two Thousand ($2,000.00) Dollars is imposed for each violation upon the Respondent, resulting in a total fine of Six Thousand ($6,000.00) Dollars.



___________________________

Ralph King Anderson, III

Administrative Law Judge




Columbia, South Carolina

June 19, 1997


Brown Bldg.

 

 

 

 

 

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