The state Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would allow people to gather for friendly games of cards in South Carolina.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Under a 212-year-old state law, all forms of gambling are technically illegal in South Carolina with the exception of the state lottery and charity raffles. Law enforcement rarely enforces the ban on unorganized groups unless a significant amount of money is involved.
However, State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said he filed the bill after a State Law Enforcement Division officer told the Sun City Hilton Head retirement community in his district that the community’s organized bridge and Mahjong games were illegal under state law and must stop. The 14,000-member Sun City community has since halted organized card games.
Under the fix he proposed, people who are members of a club or other social organization could still gather to play cards or dice, so long as “no person or entity of any kind receives any direct or indirect economic, financial, or monetary benefit of any kind.” The host could also not be paid for holding the games. In other words, a person still could not bet even small amounts of money under the law, but would still be able to organize cards and dice games without any winnings involved.
The bill passed 39-0 on Tuesday. It needs another procedural vote before it can head to the House of Representatives.
Any loosening of gambling restrictions is usually viewed with suspicion in South Carolina, long after a state senator quietly removed seemingly innocuous language from the 1986 budget that ended up legalizing video poker for a decade. Davis said he spent months working with law enforcement and the Southern Baptist Convention to ensure the language was acceptable to all involved. He was able to get the bill through the Judiciary Committee in a 21-0 vote.