Posted: 31 Jan 2011 12:45 PM PST
COLUMBIA — Legislation that would allow charities in the state to hold raffles would expire in five years, and players in casino night raffles couldn’t win cash under proposals that have won state Senate approval.
The changes came as senators moved to tighten the legislation after questions were raised about the impact of the bills and whether they could spur professional gambling.
Debate will resume next week.
Sen. David Thomas, a Fountain Inn Republican, took to the floor to voice his worries that the legislation could cause Las Vegas-style casinos to pop up around the state under the guise of helping charities. Thomas also argued the legislation could threaten the state’s “social fabric,” much as he said video poker did in the 1990s.
But others, including Sen. Brad Hutto, said Thomas’ fears were unfounded. They said the casino nights provision of the raffles law is designed only to allow players to win raffle tickets, not cash prizes, though cash could be used as a raffle prize.
“Nobody goes and plays blackjack and wins a chip that is convertible to anything other than a drawing,” Hutto said. “That’s why nobody is going to come night after night because you have no chance to win anything.”
Thomas said that in Japan players can win tickets that they can then exchange for cash with an outside organization or vendor.
“This isn’t Japan, Dorothy,” Hutto quipped. “This is only intended to allow raffles. The odds for winning are horrible so the people who want to bet aren’t going to come to casino nights. They’re coming to give money to the charity that’s holding the event.”
Thomas, however, said the legislation contains loopholes that could be exploited by professional gambling interests that could turn Myrtle Beach from a family fun spot to a gambling mecca.
Some argued that the problem is partly in the term “casino nights,” while others want to simply slice the activity, which Sen. Larry Martin, a Pickens Republican, said is practiced in Pickens County, from the bill.
An amendment by Sen. Wes Hayes, a Rock Hill Republican, to remove casino nights from the legislation was carried over, as was a proposal to place prize caps on the raffles and limits on the ticket prices of $100.
The Senate approved by a vote of 32-2 a sunset amendment by Martin so that any law passed would expire in five years unless reauthorized by the Legislature.
“That would be the safety valve of the bill,” said Martin, who said the time would allow the law to be tested and to see if any lawsuits were heard by the courts.
Another amendment by Sen. Shane Massey, an Edgefield Republican, makes it clear that players in casino nights cannot win cash prizes and their only winnings from the games such as blackjack and a roulette wheel would be raffle tickets.
More than 100 proposed amendments have been filed on the legislation, which includes allowing the state’s voters to decide if they want to legalize charitable raffles so the state’s Constitution can be amended.
Posted: 31 Jan 2011 12:10 PM PST
Those who oppose gambling in any form and those who aren’t bothered by the friendly kitchen table poker game can agree on one thing: South Carolina’s law regulating gambling doesn’t resolve the issue.
Judges are at odds over the case of people being arrested while playing Texas Hold ‘em in a Mount Pleasant residence. It is now before the S.C. Supreme Court.
And law enforcement agencies vary in their interpretation and enforcement of the existing law.
So it is time for the Legislature to make it clear that a friendly game of poker at a neighbor’s house is not the state’s concern, but a high-stakes casino is.
And it’s time to remove doubts that churches and other non-profit organizations may legally hold raffles.
Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell believes that two bills he has submitted will do that. They won approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee after vigorous debate.
Opponents raise a worthy note of caution. The bills should be carefully vetted to ensure they don’t open any unintended doors to gambling. That happened decades ago when two words in what was supposed to be a technical legislative amendment resulted in legalization of insidious video poker. Reversing that was time-consuming and difficult.
Sen. McConnell says that his bill regarding card games clearly states that legal gambling must be in a private setting; must provide no economic benefit other than personal winnings; must give every player the same chance to win (except for the advantage a player has due to skill or luck); and must involve people connected to each other by a “bona fide social relationship.”
It cannot be advertised, open to strangers or available on the Internet.
The state’s Southern Baptists are urging state lawmakers to vote against any bills that would expand legal gambling, which they suggest can lead people to misuse their “time, talents and resources.”
And state legislators have stalled on previous attempts to decriminalize friendly poker games and charity raffles.
The state does, however, operate its own gambling enterprise with the Education Lottery. And it does not prohibit casino boats from docking here and taking people offshore to gamble.
Organized, high-stakes gambling would bring ugly things that South Carolina doesn’t want like crime and gambling addiction. But Sen. McConnell’s proposal isn’t aimed at creating an Atlantic City on the Grand Strand.
The people of South Carolina should have the assurance that a friendly poker game at home isn’t going to get them in trouble with the law. And churches and non-profits should be confident that their fund-raising raffles are legitimate.
The Legislature can use this opportunity to clarify the law so law enforcement officers can pursue those games that need to be shut down and leave the others alone.