South Carolina Lawmakers Push Sports Betting Despite Odds

South Carolina Lawmakers Push Sports Betting Despite Odds

Despite a legal ban on sports betting, South Carolina officials realize there’s still millions of dollars wagered in the state each year. With a federal ban now revoked, some Palmetto State leaders want to see gambling money taxed and regulated by the state – even against long odds.

Speaking to the Charleston Post and Courier, state Sen. Brad Hutto called South Carolina’s sports betting ban a “missed opportunity.” He is among a group of Democratic lawmakers who supported sports gambling legalization legislation last year and wants to push for it again when legislators reconvene next January. Democratic gubernatorial nominee James Smith has also supported regulated sports betting.

Still, South Carolina residents shouldn’t place a bet on that happening in their home state any time soon.

Why Politics and History Stack Against Gambling

Republicans hold sizeable majorities in both chambers of the legislature and have shown little interest in a sports betting bill. With its neighbors in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee just as opposed, there seems little political impetus for a gambling push in Columbia.

These political headwinds seem unlikely to shift in the foreseeable future. South Carolina is one of the more conservative states in the country and has been dominated by Republican legislators for decades. Incumbent Gov. Henry McMaster, who is running for re-election in the upcoming election, opposed the creation of the state’s lottery and has repeatedly decried any form of gambling. Most conservatives in the statehouse also have likewise opposed most “vices” in the state.

Chief among them is gambling.

The state’s anti-gambling laws date back to the 1700’s and the state constitution explicitly bans most forms of gaming that’s become commonplace in most other states. South Carolina only legalized charity raffles for organizations like non-profits and churches in 2014. These raffles, which could only have tickets of $100 or less, was opposed by some lawmakers who feared it would lead to further gambling expansion. After the legislature approved raffles, it still required a constitutional amendment to come into effect.

Technically, even recreational card games at retirement homes were illegal in the state until 2013. In that climate, it’s hard to see a scenario were South Carolina takes a bet in the coming years, or maybe ever.

If that holds true, South Carolina may find itself in an increasingly small group.

States Realize Sports Betting’s Potential

The Supreme Court decision to strike down the federal ban on sports betting allowed all 50 states to legalize wagering in their jurisdictions. A handful of state jumped at the opportunity. Along with Nevada, which was exempt from the federal ban, Delaware, New Jersey and Mississippi legalized sports gambling and are taking bets now. West Virginia and Rhode Island are set to follow. Pennsylvania and New York both have legalization laws on the books, though they don't have a timeframe for when they'll take their first bets.

These states are now regulating and taxing their share of a gambling market that the American Gaming Association estimates is worth nearly $150 billion. It’s also, in effect, encouraging neighboring states to do the same.

A comparatively small group of states pursued legalized sports betting, but their actions have a trickle-down effect on other jurisdictions. New Jersey’s progressive views on gambling is a big reason why Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York have usually followed after. Not only does gambling expansion generate money for state coffers – it keeps residents from taking their money to other nearby states.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to New Jersey. With Rhode Island set to take its first bet Oct. 1, neighboring Connecticut and Massachusetts are now seriously eyeing sports betting setups of their own. In West Virginia, sports betting has put more pressure on Ohio and Kentucky.

A similar situation played out with the modern lottery. In 1964, New Hampshire became the first state to launch a government-supported lottery program. It was no coincidence that New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts were the next four states to do the same.

As it was with its lottery, South Carolina is unlikely to be an early adaptor. But when South Carolinians began crossing the border to play lottery in Georgia, the Palmetto State took notice. A similar state-by-state growth may, someday, force a similar move in South Carolina.

Interested in learning more about the current US sports betting landscape? Check out our latest Gamblecast explaining everything you need to know about US sports betting:

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