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  • Chad Ingram

The Post & Courier: Commentary: Pass the S.C. Equine Advancement Act

Our elected officials love to talk about South Carolina being a great place to do business, especially in our urban areas. It’s true; we hear about the Palmetto State landing commitments from new manufacturing businesses and other economic wins across the urban corridors all the time. But here’s the catch: Little of that growth is spreading out to help our rural areas.

That’s a real problem for rural South Carolinians who rely on the agribusiness sector to support their families and communities.

Luckily, in 2024, our state lawmakers have a chance to do something about it. The S.C. Equine Advancement Act has already passed in the S.C. House of Representatives and is waiting for approval in the state Senate. This bill could bring new opportunities to support our rural jobs and communities, and it all centers around South Carolina’s longstanding equine industry.

Horse racing has been woven into South Carolina’s cultural fabric dating back to the 1700s, when the first race took place in Charleston. It’s not just a sport; it’s a part of who we are, and it is one of the biggest economic drivers in rural South Carolina.

Today, though, South Carolina’s equine industry is dwindling. Places such as Aiken, Camden, Elloree and Kingstree are seeing fewer and fewer horses, stables and local businesses related to the equine industry. This downward trend affects everyone in the Palmetto State’s rural communities, from local farmers and tack and feed stores to equine training centers and horse-based therapy centers.

The S.C. Equine Advancement Act would help change that by allowing South Carolinians to bet on horse races from the privacy and convenience of their phone. The legislation would allow for a type of gambling called advance-deposit wagering, which would require that all participants pre-deposit funds into an account before placing wagers on horse races being run across the country. The bill includes such safeguards as setting up a regulatory commission to approve or deny licenses to up to three ADW gaming platforms. This commission would collect a fee from the gaming proceeds and return that money to agribusinesses through a grant program.

That might sound like a small thing, but in 39 other states, it has been the most important source of revenue growth for horse and agricultural communities. Due to this, many businesses have left the Palmetto State and gone to more favorable economic climates, resulting in a dwindling equine industry here.

The Equine Advancement Act could save jobs and businesses in our rural areas. The horse racing industry employs about 30,000 South Carolinians and pumps $1.9 billion into our state’s economy every year. That’s a big deal, and we don’t want to lose the existing investment or jobs in our rural areas while we also look for new ways to help them survive.

The bill isn’t just about saving what we have; it’s about making things better. If the bill passes, it will create a fund to help out the equine industry and related businesses. This means more support for our small towns experiencing a considerable decline in both job and population numbers.

We know South Carolina is good at bringing in new companies, but it’s time for our elected officials to focus on the places, people and businesses that have been here for centuries. Let’s ask our state senators and Gov. Henry McMaster to support the S.C. Equine Advancement Act. It’s a chance to bring life back to our rural areas, keep our traditions alive and ensure a promising future for all South Carolinians.

Chad Ingram is chairman of the board and CEO of the Aiken Training Track.


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