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  • Mark Powell

Fits News: South Carolina Horse Racing Bill: Another Photo Finish?

A piece of legislation that would permit online betting on horse racing in South Carolina is turning into the home stretch in the S.C. General Assembly. It made it through the House last week after winning by a nose in a somewhat surprising 54-44 vote. But all bets are off as the Senate prepares to take it up this week.

The bill – H. 3514 – would authorize the creation of an appointed commission that would then license three online vendors to accept wagers on the ponies. In return, these vendors would pay the state a minimum of 10 percent of the revenue. Up to half of that money would be spent supporting South Carolina’s equine industry.

State senator Katrina Shealy says people working in the horse-related sector need that important financial shot in the arm.

“This is actually about agribusiness,” Shealy said. “We have 11 schools in South Carolina that have equine programs. This money would help them. We’ve just invested in a veterinarian school at Clemson. Some of the money could go back there. You know, there are so many other things in South Carolina that involve the equine industry.”

According to Shealy, proceeds from the legalization would also be “invested in the Palmetto Trail system.”

“There’s a lot of other things that would give jobs to people who are training horses, jockeys, and grooms,” Shealy added. “If people will look a little deeper than just seeing horse racing, they will see it’s bigger than that. This is not a full-fledged betting bill; this is the Equine Advancement Act.”

Nonetheless it is the wagering portion of the legislation that has attracted the most attention. When the House approved it last week, it was the first gambling-related measure (apart from non-profit raffles) to win legislative approval since the state lottery was passed in 2001.

Supporters of the new bill say plenty of gambling is already happening in South Carolina, either legally (through the lottery) or via online ventures.

“People are doing it … South Carolina’s just not getting any money out of it,” Shealy explained. “They advertise every day about FanDuel and DraftKings, and people can go online, get an out-of-state address, you sign up, you gamble online. But none of that money comes back to South Carolina. It all goes into some offshore account, and somebody else is making money on it. So why not set the commission up, keep that money here in South Carolina, and give back to the equine industry, which is what we’re trying to do.”

When the House narrowly passed this legislation last week, many representatives declined to vote one way or the other. One reason could have been that the vote was held at 8:30 p.m. EDT – when some members of the chamber had left for the day. House speaker Murrell Smith did not vote because had gone home sick.

Opposition to any form of gambling remains especially strong in the socially conservative Upstate. That has some political observers wondering if there will be a wave of similar de facto abstentions this time around in the Senate.

The smart money says, “don’t bet on it.”

Either way, we may find out soon whether this bill will ultimately win, place, or show when the Senate debates it as expected later this week. Count on this news outlet to keep our readers updated as to its status – especially in the event of another photo finish.

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