History of gambling in South Carolina
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 required 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 horse tracks, dog tracks, pari-mutuel facilities, or off-track 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 the promotion of gambling. Their mere possession constitutes an illegal act.
Some gambling laws in South Carolina pre-date the Civil War, which began with the firing on Fort Sumter there. The Union eventually won and covered.
Key dates in South Carolina gambling
1802: South Carolina Legislature amends its constitution to make all gambling illegal.
1999: South Carolina Supreme Court rules that the wildly popular video game terminals are illegal.
2007: Catawba Tribe loses court fight to stage video gaming on tribal property.
2009: Five men are tried on illegal gambling charges for playing poker in one of their homes. They are cleared.
2012: State Supreme Court rules that social gambling is not legal.
2015: A bill seeking to introduce commercial casinos and a host of other gambling activities fails.
2016: A daily fantasy bill is shut down by the state Legislature. Sites like DraftKings and FanDuel operate in a legal gray area in the state.
2017: A poll reveals that nearly 70% of South Carolina residents want gambling legalized if the money is used to fix roads.
2021: Bills to legalize all forms of gambling are proposed by Democrats but die in committee. In July 2021, it was announced a study had begun on the potential benefits of a horse betting industry in SC.