CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- An estimated 31.4 million Americans are expected to place some kind of wager on SuperBowl LVI, but South Carolinians (legally) will not be one of them.
Sports betting is illegal in South Carolina and the only legal type of betting is on the lottery. But, gubernatorial hopeful, Joe Cunningham, is looking to change that.
Cunningham’s proposal would allow South Carolinians to bet on sports online, in brick and mortar locations, and on mobile apps, a move that he estimates could generate $40 million a year in tax revenue.
“It is time to give South Carolinians the same freedom people in 30 other states enjoy and finally legalize sports betting,” Cunningham said. “This is about freedom and generating new revenue for our state to tackle our biggest challenges.”
30 states and Washington, DC currently have live, legal sports betting and another seven are considering legislation that would legalize it, according to the American Gaming Association.
While sports betting is illegal, the law does not specifically address “online” gambling, giving way to legal offshore gambling sites.
“The fact is sports betting is already happening in South Carolina; but it’s underground, unregulated, and brings in zero tax revenue for our state,” Cunningham said. “So we have two options: we can let the bookies run the entire industry and keep it underground with no tax revenue for our state, or we can bring it above board, regulate it, tax it, and fix problems with the money.”
South Carolina has a complicated relationship with sports betting and has been known to have some of the strictest gambling laws. But, it was not always that way.
In 1802, the state constitution was amended to ban nearly every form of gambling including cards, dice, horse racing, and lotteries.
It remained that way for decades until the 1990s when video poker machines began to pop up at gas stations and convenience stores throughout the state. A 1999 New York Times article estimated South Carolina had a $2.8 billion gambling industry as a result of 34,000 operating video-poker slot machines.
But, the South Carolina Supreme Court quickly extinguished the industry when it declared a referendum to keep the machines operational was unconstitutional, requiring them to be unplugged by June 30, 2000. That same year, the South Carolina Lottery was approved.
Since, legislators have made efforts to chip away at the restrictive laws, including a 2015 commercial casinos bill introduced by Todd Rutherford (D-Richland) that ultimately failed.
Cunningham argued legalized sports betting would bolster the economy, a practice that neighboring states are taking advantage of.
“All of our neighboring states have either legalized sports betting or they are taking steps to do so, and South Carolina once again finds itself at an economic disadvantage,” Cunningham said. “I’m tired of letting North Carolina and Georgia reap the benefits of new industries because South Carolina politicians won’t get out of our way.”