The South Carolina Senate passed legislation Wednesday that would officially allow charities, schools, and churches to hold four raffles per year- technically illegal under current state law. It would also permit friendly games of poker.
However, a constitutional amendment vote fell short, meaning the law would be meaningless unless the Senate passes the amendment on third reading.
S. 255 passed by a 24-16 vote, with 5 members not voting. However, any change to the state constitution requires a two-thirds majority.
The issue first emerged after a 2006 raid on a poker game in a Mount Pleasant home which led to five arrests. Although the charges were later dismissed, the controversy caught the attention of Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) and others.
The problem is an obscure 1802 law that, if read literally, outlaws any kind of gambling– including friendly card games and church bingos.
Sen. Ray Cleary (R-Georgetown) said, if the bill doesn’t pass, legislators will put pressure on law enforcement officers to crack down on those charities and other groups currently holding raffles in South Carolina.
When you’re all there talking about, “Hey, it’s not a problem. Nobody’s calling us.” Well, I guarantee you, in the next year or two, they will. Because when we see a raffle going on, we will inform that body that they are doing something illegal and we wish it to stop.
He said those who testified in subcommittee all agreed that if the law was not changed, the current law needed to be enforced, “even the chairman of the Baptist Association agreed.” Cleary said this would hold those opposing the bill accountable to any charities forced to stop raffles and “casino nights.”
When we call, I’ll give (those complaining) a list and say, “these are the ones that say raffles are illegal and we do not need to do them.” That will be the law of the land, and that’s what I’m going to do. I think it’s fair because that’s one thing we heard: “if you don’t change it, you need to enforce it.”
The collection of senators opposing the bill is bipartisan and stand in opposition for different reasons. Some are worried about the intrusive nature of regulating how much people and charities can raise through the games. Others fear the law may have unintended consequences, such as what happened in 1986 when a change in budget law cleared the way for video poker in South Carolina. Still others disapprove of any legalized gambling on principle.
McConnell expressed frustration with the process, saying 84 percent of active voters supported raffles in a recent poll.
Can you tell me… with polling numbers like that, why in the world are we into the fifth week and not able to pass this raffle bill?
An amendment was voted down that would have required a $50 fee for any nonprofit group that wished to hold a raffle. Cleary said the fee is necessary if the Legislature expects the law to be enforced. However, Sen. Nikki Setzler (D-Lexington) said the fees amount to a tax increase.
The bill heads to the House. Meanwhile, the Senate will renew a third attempt to get enough votes for the constitutional amendment Thursday.