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  • Joseph Bustos

The State Newspaper: ’We are not reinventing the wheel.’ SC House narrowly passes online wagering

Four days after the Carolina Cup held its annual contests, the South Carolina House decided people should be able to wager on horse races at least online.

Bets would be made through the advanced deposit wagering. 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 cell phones to wager on races across the country. Money would be added to an account after winning a wager.

The bill is separate from an online sports betting bill, which also incorporates the horse race wagering bill.

Under the online horse race wagering legislation approved Wednesday in a 54-44 vote, the state would tax a minimum of 10% on the vendors’ adjusted gross revenues from wagers. That money would be used to operate an equine commission and provide grants to those in the equine industry.

Gambling on sports or horse racing is not legal in South Carolina. Around the country, 39 states allow online horse race wagering.

“I can remember as a child, stable after stable was full. Folks were working in the industry,” said state Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun, the primary sponsor of the bill. “It was really good for the local economy. Unfortunately we’ve lost ground.”

Ott’s legislation has a companion bill in the Senate proposed by state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington. The Senate bill has 19 co-sponsors.


Debate on the bill stretched for hours Wednesday as gambling opponent and state Rep. John McCravy, who chairs the Family Caucus, proposed several amendments, most of which were subsequently rejected or withdrawn.

McCravy, a Greenwood Republican, said he supports spending money in the state budget to assist the equine industry in the state, but raising money through gambling is not the way to do it.

“I don’t think we need to use that as an excuse to put parimutuel betting in South Carolina,” McCravy said.

Lawmakers in recent years have studied the equine industry in the state and ways to help it grow. Last year, the equine industry had a $1.9 billion impact in South Carolina, and employed more than 28,000 people.

Proponents of allowing sports betting or wagering on horse races say the practice is already taking place in South Carolina, but illegally. Legalizing it allows the state to regulate it and tax it.

The conservative Palmetto Family Alliance spoke out against the bill, saying it will lead to gambling addiction. They cited studies showing that high rates of compulsive gamblers get divorced.

“While this legislation does not legalize all sports gambling, it opens the door to all forms of gambling in South Carolina, which will lead to an increase in gambling problems and addictions that will threaten the economic and cultural stability for Palmetto State families,” the group said in a statement.

Ott pushed back against criticisms that the bill was rushed, saying he worked on the legislation for four years.

“This is not a fly-by-night bill,” Ott said. “We are not reinventing the wheel. This is being deployed in other states that are putting our constituents out of business. We don’t have the revenue to compete with other states.”

The idea of gambling has always been difficult to gain approval in the socially conservative South Carolina. The lottery is legal as a way to fund college scholarships, but it required a change to the state constitution.

“We’re talking about gambling. I know that puts a lot of people in this room in a sticky position,” Ott said. “I know people will get fearful of how they will be perceive if they vote for it or against it.”


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