A South Carolina Senate committee approved a bill Tuesday that seeks to change South Carolina’s gambling laws to allow friendly card games in homes, which are technically illegal under current law. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s 15-6 vote moved the bill to the Senate floor after a long debate.
Besides friendly card games, the bill also officially legalizes charity raffles and bingos.
The issue first emerged after a 2006 raid on a poker game in a Mount Pleasant home, leading to the arrests of five people. Although the charges were later dismissed, the controversy caught the attention of Senator Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston), who chairs the Judiciary Committee.
The problem is an obscure 1802 anti-gambling law that, if read literally, outlaws any kind of gambling– including friendly card games and church bingos.
Some on the committee expressed concerns the new bill could provide a backdoor way for commercial gambling to return to South Carolina. Sen. Chip Campsen (R-Charleston), urged his fellow senators to be careful, since it was a change in the 1986 budget’s wording that first allowed video poker to appear in the state.
Two words were stricken… and everyone was assured that was a technical correction. Several lawsuits later, we had video poker. If you’re going to have commercial gambling, you don’t want it to come into law that way.
Video poker was eventually outlawed in 2000.
In response to Campsen, Sen. Ray Cleary (R-Georgetown) pointed to a section in the bill that explicitly keeps the video poker ban in place. It states “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to allow… video poker.”
Even Sen. Robert Ford (D-Charleston), who publicly supports bringing back video poker, said the bill’s wording was definitive.
Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens) sparked another debate when he said he believes that, if the state is going to allow for gambling in homes, it needs to set a limit on how much money can be wagered. Fellow Sen. Jake Knotts challenged why that was necessary.
Currently, the bill does not limit how much a person can bet. Martin said he plans to raise the issue again on the Senate floor.
Knotts said he felt the whole debate was a waste of time.
I just don’t see the logic of sitting here spending all this time on something that people are going to do anyway. I can tell you right now, they’re doing it… And they’re going to do it whether we pass this law or not.
As if to make Knott’s point, Darlington County investigators announced Monday they had uncovered one of the largest gambling rings in state history. The Darlington County Sheriff’s Office said the raid involved seizing more than $180,000 in cash.