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Bill to legalize friendly card games and raffles moves to Senate floor (AUDIO)

Posted: 26 Jan 2011 11:23 AM PST

by MATT LONG on JANUARY 25, 2011

The Senate Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday
A South Carolina Senate committee approved a bill Tuesday that seeks to change South Carolina’s gambling laws to allow friendly card games in homes, which are technically illegal under current law. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s 15-6 vote moved the bill to the Senate floor after a long debate.

Besides friendly card games, the bill also officially legalizes charity raffles and bingos.

The issue first emerged after a 2006 raid on a poker game in a Mount Pleasant home, leading to the arrests of five people. Although the charges were later dismissed, the controversy caught the attention of Senator Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston), who chairs the Judiciary Committee.

The problem is an obscure 1802 anti-gambling law that, if read literally, outlaws any kind of gambling– including friendly card games and church bingos.

Some on the committee expressed concerns the new bill could provide a backdoor way for commercial gambling to return to South Carolina. Sen. Chip Campsen (R-Charleston), urged his fellow senators to be careful, since it was a change in the 1986 budget’s wording that first allowed video poker to appear in the state.

Two words were stricken… and everyone was assured that was a technical correction. Several lawsuits later, we had video poker. If you’re going to have commercial gambling, you don’t want it to come into law that way.

Video poker was eventually outlawed in 2000.

In response to Campsen, Sen. Ray Cleary (R-Georgetown) pointed to a section in the bill that explicitly keeps the video poker ban in place. It states “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to allow… video poker.”

Even Sen. Robert Ford (D-Charleston), who publicly supports bringing back video poker, said the bill’s wording was definitive.

AUDIO: Sen. Ford: “It can’t get no clearer than that.” (0:17)

Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens) sparked another debate when he said he believes that, if the state is going to allow for gambling in homes, it needs to set a limit on how much money can be wagered. Fellow Sen. Jake Knotts challenged why that was necessary.

AUDIO: Martin and Knotts debate “penny antes” (1:06)

Currently, the bill does not limit how much a person can bet. Martin said he plans to raise the issue again on the Senate floor.

Knotts said he felt the whole debate was a waste of time.

I just don’t see the logic of sitting here spending all this time on something that people are going to do anyway. I can tell you right now, they’re doing it… And they’re going to do it whether we pass this law or not.

As if to make Knott’s point, Darlington County investigators announced Monday they had uncovered one of the largest gambling rings in state history. The Darlington County Sheriff’s Office said the raid involved seizing more than $180,000 in cash.

Senate panel OKs gambling in homes

Posted: 26 Jan 2011 11:18 AM PST

By JOHN O’CONNOR – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Amid concerns of reviving the now-dead video poker industry, a Senate panel Tuesday approved a bill allowing dice and card games, including poker, in S.C. homes.

Critics say the move — which stems from a police raid on poker party at a Mount Pleasant home — risks the chance the video poker and gambling industry once again could find a way to legalize games of chance that the state outlawed in 2000.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 15-6 Tuesday to send the bill to the full Senate. The measure would replace the state’s 1802 antigambling laws. Read literally, those laws ban any games with dice or cards.

The bill, S. 254, is intended to allow poker and other games of chance in private homes. It sets no limit on how much could be gambled, though the homeowner is forbidden from taking a share of the winnings, and the use of electronic machines is banned.

Supporters, including Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, say the bill would allow adults to make their own decisions regarding card games and does not burden law enforcement with “policing what games they play at the kitchen table.”

“The law is antiquated, outdated, outmoded, and it needs an overhaul,” McConnell said.

Critics say the proposed change could allow the operation of casinos in private homes, adding they fear the gambling industry will use it as a vehicle to go to court to legalize all gambling.

Video poker came to South Carolina in the 1980s after a court struck down a portion of the state budget, opening the door to further lawsuits that eventually legalized the games.

The bill creates “fertile ground for high-paid gambling attorneys to hammer away and create a loophole,” said state Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston.

Supporters of the bill, including state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, point to the bill’s second-to-last line, a catch-all intended to explicitly ban video poker.

“Nothing … may be construed to allow electronic gambling machines or devices, slot machines, or video poker play or to change or alter in any manner the prohibitions regarding video poker,” the bill reads.

“There’s no way to construe that video poker is part of this,” said state Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston.

The bill is the second gambling-related proposal this year to reach the Senate floor, joining a bill to allow churches and other nonprofit groups to raise money with raffles.

Oran Smith with the anti-gambling Palmetto Family Council said lawmakers should have spent more time with the bill in committee to ensure it was drafted carefully. “Everything has to be considered very carefully.”

Read more: http://www.thestate.com/2011/01/26/1663619/senate-panel-oks-gambling-in-homes.html#ixzz1CAdadsBy

SC lawmakers endorse bill allowing in-home poker

Posted: 26 Jan 2011 11:07 AM PST

By SEANNA ADCOX – Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina senators on Tuesday endorsed a bill meant to legalize friendly games of poker in people’s homes, but opponents contend the potential loopholes could usher in outright gambling.
The measure, sent to the Senate floor by a 15-6 vote, would replace the state’s 1802 antigambling laws that, if read literally, ban any games with cards or dice.

The laws are selectively enforced and the government has no business telling people they can’t play games in their own homes, said Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell.

“Strike this up as a victory for liberty,” said McConnell, R-Charleston, a co-sponsor and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Constituents want police to protect them from criminals, he said, “not policing what they play on their kitchen table.”

Legislators have tried to change the laws since a much-publicized 2006 raid on a poker game in Mount Pleasant, where 22 poker players were arrested.

But their attempts have failed repeatedly, as some legislators and faith-based groups feared any change would usher in far more than kitchen-table poker, as they invoke the rise of video poker. It took a decade of fighting and numerous court cases before the Legislature managed to ban in 2000 what many called the “crack cocaine of gambling.”

Sen. Chip Campsen reminded his colleagues that a two-word change to state law in 1986 allowed the video poker industry to sue its way into existence.

“This is not speculation. It’s history,” said Campsen, R-Isle of Palms. “We need to be really careful with every dot.”
Oran Smith of the Palmetto Family Council said the lack of a limit on what players could bet was especially concerning. He advocates a penny-ante clause that sets the per-hand bet low. McConnell and others argued enforcement would be a problem.

Sen. Larry Martin countered that, while he knows players would skirt the law – as they do now – the state doesn’t need to approve of it.

“This sanctions big-time gambling,” said Martin, R-Pickens.

The chairman of a subcommittee that held hearings across the state during the off-session said the panel tried to cover any loopholes. The proposal specifies that poker players must have a legitimate social relationship – in an attempt to prevent games between strangers – and the last paragraph specifically bars electronic gambling machines, slot machines and video poker.

Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, chastised some of his fellow Republicans for railing against the so-called “nanny state” when it comes to federal health care, for example, but opposing the in-home social gambling bill.
“I see throughout Senate chambers the flags that say ‘Don’t Tread on Me,’” he said of the miniature flags on many Republicans’ desks. “You say our Founding Fathers didn’t want so much government intrusion into personal lives. Yet, you’re the same group who wants to regulate what people do in their own homes.”

Opponents spent the bulk of two hours poking holes in the measure, saying, for example, that homes could be turned into casinos and membership clubs created to suffice as a social relationship. Many senators said they’d try to amend the measure on the Senate floor to address the various possibilities.

The state Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of poker games. McConnell said legislators need to define and regulate gambling before the ruling.

In the Mount Pleasant raid, most of those ticketed for illegal gambling settled their cases by paying fines. But a handful fought the charge. A local judge found the men guilty, but a Circuit Court judge reversed that decision. Former Attorney General Henry McMaster’s appeal is before the state Supreme Court.

Last week, the same Senate committee endorsed legislation letting voters decide if schools, churches and other nonprofit groups should be able to hold raffles. Currently, the only legal raffle in South Carolina is the state lottery.

Read more: http://www.heraldonline.com/2011/01/25/2780471/sc-senators-to-debate-allowing.html#ixzz1CAavacrT

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