South CarolinaIt is unusual to describe a gambling situation as tragic. Some states, like Utah, have never been fans of games of chance at all. Other states have gradually introduced elements of gaming and have steadily increased their participation or held relatively steady. South Carolina, on the other hand, may be the only state in the US to have dipped its toes in the water, then run screaming in the opposite direction.

Online gambling

South Carolina’s gambling laws are some of the strictest in the nation. Rarely are statutes written with so little ambiguity. The laws are more analogous to drug laws than the ones typically seen in gambling regulations. In fact, the laws are so stringent on any type of gambling that it doesn’t even make sense to speak about the notion of an online casino in South Carolina.

Social casino options

The typical operators of social casinos are available in South Carolina. In fact, Big M Casino, the cruise casino operator from Little River offers its own link to Double Down Casino – the largest of the social casinos. Otherwise, Slotomania, Big Fish, Zynga Poker, and all the usual options are available in South Carolina.

However, given the strict and prohibitive nature of South Carolina’s current gambling laws, it is advisable to proceed with caution on any site that has real-world promotions, such as MyVegas. Because any gambling or even mere ownership of gambling devices is illegal, it would be an unfortunate situation to face fines, confiscation, jail time, or a combination of the three simply because a player tried to redeem some loyalty points.

State casino operator history

It used to be quite a sight. South Carolina had tens of thousands of video lottery terminals – which were de facto video poker machines. In October 1999, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the machines were unconstitutional. They were requires to be shut down by June 2000, which they were.

At that point, a large portion of public opinion had turned against the machines. In no small part because of a particularly brutal story of a baby suffocating while its mother played video poker. Unfortunately, South Carolinians blamed the presence of the machines for this tragedy. As such, the multi-billion-dollar industry vanished in the summer of 2000.

This reversal is unique. Most states either introduce gambling slowly and increase offerings steadily over decades, or they introduce minimal gambling, like lotteries and racetracks, and stand pat. For a state to withdraw to an anti-gambling position is quite remarkable. For a state to reverse into one of the most restrictive situations in the country is even odder.

And yet, that is the situation in South Carolina. The gambling statutes for the Palmetto State are among the most restrictive in the US. It is illegal to have casino gambling, so there are no casinos within state lines. There are also no horsetracks, dogtracks, pari-mutuel facilities, or offtrack betting options to be found. Furthermore, it’s unlawful to even own gambling devices or tables, even if they are not being used in any way for promotion of gambling. Their mere possession constitutes an illegal act.

Legal gaming options

The only exceptions are strictly controlled social games (home poker games, mahjong, bridge, etc.), the state lottery, and charitable bingo games. The only other option for South Carolinians to gamble is to take one of two casino cruises. These depart from Little River (near Myrtle Beach) and are both operated by The Big “M” Casino company.

Out-of-state options

Otherwise, the only options for residents of the Palmetto State are three-to-four hours of driving away. The two Harrah’s Cherokee properties in Western North Carolina offer the nearest glimmers of possibility. Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort is the closer of the two – accessible from Columbia in just over three hours.

There is a bit of hope on the horizon. As is often the case, South Carolina has run into budget problems in the last few years. Specifically, the state of South Carolina’s roads has become a dangerous proposition. They are in need of an infusion of money and repair. Public opinion has swayed toward casinos as an option for addressing this need.

Possible changes ahead

Efforts are already underway. Rep. Todd Rutherford introduced H 3102 late last year. The bill, a joint resolution, proposes an amendment to South Carolina’s state constitution that would provide for the General Assembly to specify certain areas of the state for the development of full Las Vegas-style casinos. The bill is quite broad and would even allow the introduction of pari-mutuel betting and sports betting on professional sports.

So far, the bill is still with the judiciary committee, and no updates to its status have occurred since January – not a good sign. Still, for a state with such stringent anti-gambling regulations, the fact that the bill is even under consideration highlights both the changing mindset of voters in the state and the level of desperation the government is feeling to fix the roads. However, the path to legalization is long and would require a voter referendum to approve it, even if the bill makes it past the legislative body.

South Carolina is one of the toughest spots for gamblers. Not only are in-state options limited, but also out-of-state options are scarce. The state’s most prominent neighbor, Georgia, has no casinos, either. Still, times are changing, the old guard is moving on, and one can never tell what may happen … even in South Carolina. Below is a list of the nearest options for South Carolinians, limited and inconvenient though they may be.

Nearest casino or gambling options

Property Location Distance from Columbia Distance from Charleston
Big M Casino (casino cruises) Little River, SC 166 miles 120 miles
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort Cherokee, NC 198 miles 307 miles
Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel Murphy, NC 256 miles 365 miles

State legal environment

  Permitted/Offered? Notes & Restrictions
Land-Based Gambling No Extremely strict statutes – even ownership of gambling paraphernalia (like roulette wheels or poker tables) is outlawed.
Online Gambling No
Lottery Yes In-state and multi-state drawings offered
Charitable or House-Based Gambling Yes Allowed, but under very strict definitions – caution is advised to maintain compliance with the law.
Minimum Gambling Age 18 for lottery; 21 for casino cruises