Friday’s editorial lines up behind the current state push to legalize charity raffles and home games while keeping larger gambling illegal.
Legalizing gambling creates a host of legitimate concerns, many of which we’ve detailed in these pages.
Some vociferously pro-gambling South Carolinians (given voice by state Sen. Robert Ford’s bid for governor, which garnered 34,000 votes statewide out of about 600,000 cast in the June primaries) would “improve” Myrtle Beach by legalizing casinos here – though not in their own backyards, of course. Ford had some optimistic figures: He’d sell the state license for $1 billion, and use the money to rescue the state’s public schools.
Likewise with video poker. Its proponents remember the $60 million in tax revenue it generated in its heyday but have forgotten that it cost seven times as much in substance abuse, petty theft, lost productivity and debt. Fortunately, the rest of the state remembers, and video poker remains such an anathema that it is a dominant part of yet another gambling discussion.
Pending before a legislative subcommittee led by state Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, are revisions to our state’s antiquated gambling laws. Charities are now afraid to hold raffles over fear of prosecution for gambling, costing them up to hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece in a time when many public and private sources of money for charities are drying up.
Cleary’s subcommittee is drafting a constitutional amendment (subject to approval by S.C. voters) that would allow charities to hold raffles to raise money. This change in the law is overdue; the only reasonable concerns it raises are whether the wording of the law will be written too broadly and allow video poker or some similar form of commercial gaming in through a loophole. But if the law is clear enough, we hope it will pass quickly and easily.
Similarly, headlines in 2006 about a Charleston sheriff’s raid on a Mount Pleasant home raised many South Carolinians’ fears about how far officials will go to prosecute the gambling law. A judge later ruled that the form of poker being played, Texas Hold ’Em, is more a game of skill than of chance, but he also noted that even this distinction does not necessarily make the game legal in South Carolina.
Meanwhile, officials described the games they raided as part of a high-stakes, for-profit operation – in which case, we would have less sympathy for those arrested – but steps should be taken to ensure that participation in informal, friendly poker games is not a crime.
Fortunately, state senators are also working on a bill to correct this. On the one hand, we might look at these different types of cases and say that our concerns are less based in the consequences of an individual night’s wager – a few bucks lost on a raffle ticket or in a neighbor’s living room – and more about what happens to the state when we invite in an industry with a business model based on those consequences.
But maybe it’s simpler: Our state’s gambling laws are rather extreme – charitable gaming is allowed in nearly every other state, and social gaming is allowed in about two-thirds of them – and these adjustments will make them a little more reasonable.