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  • Javon L. Harris

The State: Horse betting gets another chance to become legal in gambling-shy South Carolina


Gambling on horse racing in South Carolina has another chance to become legal after a failed effort a year ago, as lawmakers advance a bill aimed at helping the state’s struggling equine industry.


On Tuesday, a state Senate subcommittee unanimously advanced S. 303 ⏤ the South Carolina Equine Advancement Act, which would legalize advance deposit horse betting, regulated by a newly created equine commission.


The bill is primarily aimed at revitalizing the declining equine industry in South Carolina, where horse trainers say they’re having a hard time operating their facilities.


“We just feel like this legislation will give us a fighting chance to compete,” said Deborah McCutchen, who owns a horse training center and track with her husband in Kingstree. “We don’t get to employ as many people as we use to because we had to cut back on the number of horses coming to our facility.”


Gambling is mostly illegal in South Carolina outside of the lottery, but under S. 303, South Carolinians would be able to bet on horse races through a mobile app, maintained by those with a license from the equine commission.


The proposal would also create a grant program to help grow and develop the state’s equine industry. State leaders have long been resistant to legalizing betting of any kind. Years ago, the state got rid of video poker machines and opposed casino operations, which led the Catawba tribe to open a casino in North Carolina.


Sponsored by state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R- Lexington, and state Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun, the bipartisan bill was approved by the full committee last session but eventually died on the Senate floor.


This year, however, lawmakers are feeling more optimistic.


The equine industry has a $1.9 billion impact in South Carolina and employs more than 28,000 people, according to a legislative equine study report.


While serving on a equine study committee last year, Shealy and Ott learned the state could stand to bring in $8 million to $14 million annually if the Legislature legalizes horse betting, according to an analysis done by the Racing Resource Group.


Under the current proposal, horse race bettors would open an account with an approved operator, like a Fan Duel or Draft Kings, where they could deposit money. They could then use their cellphones to wager on races across the country. Money would be added to an account after winning a wager.


Only a handful of operators would be allowed to offer horse race betting, and 10% of the profit wagered through a site plus the license fees will go to the state to cover, for example, grants to help improve trails, for thoroughbred associations to offer incentives for trainers and to help pay for equine studies programs at the state’s colleges and universities, according to Shealy and Otto.


The bill is now headed to the full committee on Family and Veterans’ Services before heading back to the Senate floor.

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