A panel from the South Carolina Senate will hold its second hearing conduct two public hearings on “social” gambling and charity raffles, in Greenville, the center of opposition to the issue. The meeting will be held in the Greenville County Council chambers, today at 5:30pm.
Charleston Senator Robert Ford, a long-time gambling advocate, led last week’s meeting in Charleston and will lead this evening’s hearing. Ford says he knows some conservatives will be at the hearing who don’t like any gambling. “What I hope will happed is that a lot of religious people will come, not because they support legalized gambling, but everytime they get a raffle ticket, they violate the law. In South Carolina you cannot do raffles.”
Greenville Senator David Thomas is among those concerned about the legislation. He says it will lead the state down a road it has been down before. “What is gonna take place is you’re going too have the bad guys come in, which is what happened with video poker, a perfectly innocent sounding amendment. Nobody thought that with that change, that minor change, that you could open the doors to video poker. Now this is much more of an open door than video poker. You’re swinging the doors wide open and saying ‘go ahead and violate the law, because there’s only a $200 fine, IF you get caught.'”
State law now prohibits people from playing card games, including poker, even at home. It’s also illegal for churches and nonprofit groups to hold raffles or so-called “casino nights.” Senate Pro Tem Glenn McConnell has authored the bills, which would update existing laws and create a constitutional amendment authorizing churches and charities to hold raffles. But Thomas asserts that it’s a backdoor way for organized gambling to re-enter the state. “What this will do is open wide the doors to systematic, casino-style operations to come into South Carolina, and you’re not going to recognize South Carolina in five years if this thing passes.”
McConnell says his legislation is not an attempt to open up the state to organized gambling or gambling for profit. McConnell says you ought to be able to buy raffle tickets from non-profits and charities, and should be able to play poker in your own home. The Charleston senator says his bills were driven in part by the fact that in April 2006, a group of men were ticketed in Mount Pleasant for playing Texas Hold ’em poker.