The more than 1,800 employees of Horry County should be steamed. As the County Council continues to debate first whether it can afford to give those workers a raise at all this year and next whether that well-deserved raise would be a measly 1 percent (after no raises since 2008) or a just slightly better 2 percent, at least some of the reason for that penny-pinching sits docked up in Little River.
The owners of the SunCruz casino boat, which takes gamblers out to international waters, have refused since last summer to pay the county the $7 per passenger fee they agreed to back in 2010. As the county’s subsequent lawsuit works its way through the courts, the lost revenue continues to add up, to the point the county now estimates they’re owed more than $500,000. With a resolution potentially years down the road, that total continues to grow, and county residents stand to lose a significant amount of money that could be put to use right now.
A hearing had been scheduled in the case for last week, but it was delayed with no word on when it might be rescheduled.
SunCruz owners, for their part, complain that they’re not paying because sweepstakes parlors in the county are taking away from their business, and they don’t believe that Horry County has done enough to discourage these illegal enterprises.
“Last summer, we were stunned to learn of the sudden proliferation of illegal gambling operations and machines here in Little River,” said SunCruz co-owner Robert Weisberg in a statement back in November. “… We made it clear then that we expected them to stop issuing licenses and shut them down or we would be forced to seek some form of relief.”
The concern of the boat’s owners is understandable. Nobody appreciates new business competition, particularly when that competition does not play by the same rules. But, at the risk of sounding trite, two wrongs don’t make a right. The casino’s refusal to honor its word and its obligations is unsupportable. It’s a simple matter of integrity and honor. Weisberg’s signature is on the May 2010 agreement that put in place the $7 per passenger fee. There is no condition that says the agreement only applies as long as his business prospers or as long as he’s willing to pay the fee. Whether he liked it or not, he agreed to it as a cost of doing business. And the casino should still be paying it.
Contacted last week, Weisberg was voluble, but unwilling to speak on the record without first consulting his lawyers, the never shy Todd Kincannon and former Rep. Thad Viers. He never called back.
As to SunCruz’s public complaint about sweepstakes parlors, Horry County Sgt. Robert Kegler said that county police, as well as the State Law Enforcement Division, continue to investigate complaints of illegal gambling machines and activity.
“Anytime there’s a complaint made, we initiate an investigation,” Kegler said on Thursday.
Those investigations do not always lead to convictions, and police are never alerted to some locations, but that is hardly the fault of our hard-working law enforcement officers.
Notably, the SunCruz’s competition in Little River, the Big M casino boat, continues to pay its passenger fees. Meanwhile, SunCruz holds onto its collected fees, betting perhaps that they can wait out the lawsuit. And Horry County debates a budget that’s tighter than it ought to be.