Harold T. Dukes Sr., who founded the Children’s Cancer Cooperative in South Carolina in 1999, could not be reached for comment.
Records found by the AP show Mathis registered the Children’s Cancer Cooperative in Florida in 2009. It has also been active in at least six other states where sweepstakes games are popular — Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia and Iowa.
Casinos consider such sweepstakes cafes unfair competition because they typically don’t pay taxes and often operate in states were gambling is supposed to be illegal. Their ties to charity also lend them a veneer of legitimacy while discouraging law enforcement officials from shutting them down, said David Stewart, a Washington attorney who represents the casino gaming industry.
"It’s hard to come up with a more sympathetic cause than children with cancer," Stewart said. "It makes people feel good about going there, makes it more socially acceptable because it’s all for a good cause."
To play at the cafes, customers get prepaid cards and then go to a computer to play "sweepstakes." The games, with spinning wheels similar to slot machines, have names such as "Captain Cash," ’’Lucky Shamrocks" and "Money Bunny." Winners go back to a cashier with their cards and cash out.
On Wednesday, first-time visitors to Old City Sweepstakes in St. Augustine were asked to sign a registration form identifying any prizes won at the cafe as "a promotion sponsored by Children’s Cancer Cooperative Inc." Asked where the money from the cafe goes, the clerk provided a brochure describing Children’s Cancer Cooperative as a nonprofit charity established by Dukes.
"Harold feels like God has blessed him his entire life, not only financially but also with his health and the health of his wife, children and grandchildren," the brochure says. "Because of God’s abundant blessings, Harold believes that he should share these gift(s) with others. Harold’s desire and wishes is to give to others as God has given to him."
The brochure includes color photos of the 76-year-old Dukes with his wife, Rosie, and posing with ill children while handing out huge yellow checks to the Miami Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Shrines Hospital for Children in Tampa.
More photos posted on the charity’s website include Dukes handing a $10,000 charity check to his local sheriff "for safety of the children and families in Berkeley County" and accepting a framed resolution passed by the South Carolina House of Representatives in 2010 to honor his charitable works.
The brochure describes Dukes as living on a farm outside Charleston, S.C. Records show he also is the owner of Music In Motion Family Fun Center of Summerville, S.C., which offers "jackpot bingo" seven nights a week. Dukes is also listed as the managing partner of Goldmine Arcade, a Florida corporation affiliated with several sweepstakes cafes.
Dukes’ wife answered the door at the couple’s modest home near Ravenel, S.C., on Wednesday, but said her husband wasn’t home. He did not return a message seeking comment about his involvement with Children’s Cancer Cooperative.
Dukes is paid $50,000 annually as president of the cancer charity, federal tax records show. His son, Carl Dukes, is the vice president, and other members of his family and business associates have also received money.