South Carolina Sports Betting Bill Introduced Despite Odds

South Carolina Sports Betting Bill Introduced Despite Odds

South Carolina has largely fought against nearly every form of gambling since its founding, going so far as to enshrine said opposition into its constitution.

Change won’t come easy, but one state lawmaker has taken the first step to do so.

Last week state Sen. Gerald Malloy filled an amendment to the South Carolina constitution ahead of the state’s 2019 legislative session. The bill would open up jurisdictions to allow games of chance, sports betting and pari-mutuel horse race betting.

Malloy’s bill, along with a separate joint resolution to create a gambling study committee, are essential first steps to change centuries of gambling resistance. The next steps will prove far more difficult to achieve.

South Carolina Gambling Faces Major Obstacles

To put it succinctly, there are few states more opposed to gambling than South Carolina.

That begins with the state constitution, which has codified gambling restrictions since 1895. It even prohibits a person “holding an office of honor, trust or profit” from betting or otherwise partaking in a game of chance. It further calls for the removal from office for anyone convicted of a gambling offense.

That constitutional prohibition leaves little wiggle room. With a few exceptions, such as the state lottery as well as a casino boat “cruises” off the coast, there are no legal gambling means in the Palmetto State.

That even extended to card games at retirement homes. Police “broke up” recreational games as recently as 2013, leading to a public backlash but nevertheless underscoring the systematic hurdles to gambling.

In 2014, voters amended the constitution to carve out a caveat to allow non-profits and religious organizations to offer charity raffles with tickets of $100 or less, but even that faced opposition from some lawmakers.

The political climate hasn’t changed much in the years since.

Republicans have dominated politics in the state for a generation and maintain control of the governor’s mansion, House of Representatives and Senate. Gov. Henry McMaster, who won a four-year term in office following the November 2018 elections, was previously against the state lottery. There are long odds he becomes a gambling advocate in the coming years.

The same resistance remains in the General Assembly. The GOP holds sizable advantages over the Democrats in both chambers, which allows them to control the flow, and passage, of legislation.

For Democrats like Malloy, its hard to get any bill passed, let alone one that Republicans have typically worked against. McMaster’s ability to veto any bill also looms large.

In the unlikely case it gets through the House, Senate and governor’s office, legal gambling would still need a voter-approved amendment to the constitution. Voters have clearly shown little appetite for full-scale gambling avenues such as wagers on sports or table games in the past or little support for the future.

If it’s any consolation, gambling views are starting to shift nationwide – and even in the traditionally conservative south.

Southern States Take Up Gambling

Most of South Carolina’s regional neighbors share similar anti-gambling sentiments, but even here, attitudes have begun to change.

Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky have all introduced sports betting legalization bills for their respective 2019 legislative sessions, highlighting an overall shift in gambling accessibility in the region. That’s manifest most dramatically in Virginia, which is nearing its first-ever legal casino.

North Carolina already has two Native American casinos in its western edge and seems positioned to offer sports bets – possibly statewide.

Joined by vocal support from new Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, multiple North Carolina lawmakers have come out in support of sports betting legalization. Though key details remain to be resolved, it appears legislators will seriously consider the measure for the first time ever when they return to Raleigh for the 2019 session.

Potential stakeholders such as Tepper hope this may carry over to South Carolina, which shares a border and myriad cultural similarities with its northern neighbor. In other regions, noticeably the Mid-Atlantic, successful legalization in one state has motivated elected officials in neighboring jurisdictions to pass similar laws of their own.

South Carolina still presents an uphill climb. For the immediate future, an annual introduction of a gambling amendment in the General Assembly is akin to Sisyphus pushing his boulder up a mountain.

But even the most recalcitrant legislatures aren’t immune to the allure of new revenue opportunities. South Carolina lawmakers likely won’t pass a gambling legalization amendment in 2019, let alone one to legalize sports betting, but it has taken an essential initial step forward.

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