Saying that South Carolina is restrictive about gambling is putting it extremely lightly. Within the United States, only one other state (Utah) is more antagonistic towards gaming or Parimutuel betting in all of its forms.
There are no land-based or tribal casinos in South Carolina. No sports betting, no poker in any form, and only very limited lotteries exist there.
A quick history of South Carolina gambling laws
South Carolina law currently identifies just three legal forms of gambling: bingo, raffles, and the state lottery. The laws in South Carolina are rather antiquated, not having been updated on the matter since the end of the Holy Roman Empire (circa 1806). Many of the laws pertain to games that are no longer played or no longer even exist.
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No friend to gambling
The state of South Carolina takes the position that gambling lowers the morals of its citizens and encourages crime. Its laws haven’t changed much in the past 200 years and its residents (by majority) tend to agree with these harsh laws and penalties.
South Carolina law makes no distinction between public and private games, either. With very few exceptions, it is generally an anti-gambling state.
South Carolina is no stranger to Blue Laws, the fraught precepts instituted when the US and Western Christianity mingled a bit more than they do now. Other than no liquor sales on the Sabbath, the one that stands out the most is the law against playing games on Sunday.
No, not gambling. Any game. Technically, state law prohibits residents playing any kind of game at all — Yahtzee, board games, Solitaire — you name it, it’s off-limits. So put the Monopoly box away, before you break the law.
The 90s experiment
Like many states, South Carolina began to expand its gambling scene in the 90s. Believe it or not, at the time, the state used to have tons of video poker machines operating. However, in 1999, the state Supreme Court ruled that they were unconstitutional and by June 2000, they were all shut down.
Public opinion had shifted too, as there was a particularly gruesome story of a baby who suffocated to death in a car while the mother gambled at a video poker machine at a roadside stop. This only served to strengthen the already draconian gambling laws within the state.
Legal gambling in South Carolina
Other than driving to the nearby, gambling-friendly state of North Carolina, players in South Carolina have fairly limited options when it comes to this popular pastime. The only exceptions are strictly controlled social games (home poker games, mahjong, bridge, etc.).
Established in 2000, the South Carolina Education Lottery is the Palmetto State’s official lottery. Offering local and national draw games like Mega Millions and Powerball, as well as scratchers and instant win games, this is one legal opportunity to try your luck in the state.
In 1976, the state ‘Bingo Act’ legislation passed, legalizing charitable gaming, albeit under very limited circumstances. The South Carolina Department of Revenue (SCDOR) oversees the licensing and regulation of charitable gambling in South Carolina. These are usually non-profit bingo games or raffles, although, in 2004, electronic bingo machines were legalized as well.
Residents who enjoy casino gambling do have the option of driving to the Myrtle Beach and Little River area to play on a casino cruise. Two cruises, both owned by Big M Casino Cruises, leave shore most days of the week for their jaunts into international waters.
Big M offers blackjack, craps, roulette, let it ride, slots, and video poker, although no other kinds of poker games can be found there.
Playing at online casinos
Online casinos are prohibited from operating in South Carolina and any operators would be punished under current law. Operators notwithstanding, online players do not face the same kind of legal restrictions. The Code of Law of SC does not explicitly outlaw online gambling.
A legal gray area
Online gambling exists in a legal gray area. Since the state of South Carolina doesn’t issue licenses or regulate casinos, online gambling would seem to be a pretty obvious no-no when it comes to the overt legality of the pastime. However, state officials also don’t actively prosecute players who wager and gamble online. As it stands, things are a bit unclear.
Although the laws on the books were written prior to the existence of the internet, they are quite strict and gamblers in South Carolina could face hefty fines and substantial prison sentences. Prosecution of residents gambling online at offshore, unregulated casinos is a possibility, but for the time being, a rare one.
Rogue casino sites
More worrisome than vague online gambling laws, however, is the danger of playing at a disreputable site. Flashcasino has written a great article about everything you need to know when playing at an unregulated online casino, click here to get the scoop. Taking time to read reviews and doing a bit of research beforehand is invaluable for South Carolinians to protect themselves.
The future of gambling in the Palmetto State
While the future prospects of gambling in South Carolina are pretty bleak and a majority of residents disagreeing with the legalization of casinos, one group is researching the possibility of bringing gaming back to the state.
Founded in 2019, the Palmetto Forum is looking into the pros and cons of what legalizing gambling could mean for the state. Encouragingly, 65% of residents said that they would actually support this action, provided all of the revenue went to infrastructure development.
It will be interesting to see what the future holds for gambling in South Carolina.