Poker Laws in South Carolina

Online Poker in South Carolina – Estimated date of legalization: 2021-2022

Important SC Notes

  • Licensed poker sites offshore legally allow SC players
  • A poll showed 68% of SC voters oppose internet gambling
  • Yet, SC voters want to expand gambling by a 2-1 margin
  • State Lottery is the only main form of gambling allowed
  • Racetracks, charity, pari-mutuel, comm/tribal casinos illegal

Cliff Notes

  • 2021
  • 0 never
Last updated: October 24, 2017 by Savanah
Representative Todd Rutherford prefiled a bill on January 2nd to allow for legal land-based casinos with sports betting in South Carolina. If this bill passes the legislature it will be on the November 2018 ballot. In a recent Winthrop University poll, 54% of residents are in favor of allowing casinos in the state and 42% oppose. The state still doesn’t have any commercial or tribal casinos, so authorizing those would be the first step before considering internet gambling.

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The current law prohibits practically all forms of gambling, poker included, strengthened by a recent ruling by the Supreme Court. There are no licensing structures in place to regulate online poker or online gambling in any form, nor are there any plans to introduce some kind of authority to regulate this type of industry in the near future. Playing from South Carolina is only available by offshore poker sites. It is NOT illegal for a US citizen to play at these type of sites but at sole risk (low) of the current sites to operate ethically and pay.

Future Outlook of Online Poker in South Carolina

The following graph tracks our expected legislation of online poker in South Carolina on a state law level. It is currently already legal on a Federal level. This graph monitors the current rise or fall of expected legalization.

Recent Activity
South Carolina is one of the states where online gambling or poker will probably not become a reality in the near future. A poll was taken in July 2014 that asked 1,000 likely voters in South Carolina if they favor or oppose legalized gambling over the internet in their state. The results showed that 68% opposed it. The state’s strict anti-gambling laws have been in place since the turn of the 19th century and remain largely unaltered.  With this type of track record in progression, it seems highly unlikely that the Palmetto State will be rushing to adopt internet poker regulations for some time to come.

It is still early to see whether South Carolina will act on the 2012 Department of Justice [A] opinion that the Wire Act does not apply to internet gambling at casinos or poker sites.  However, from a number of extreme reactions to online gambling issues involving the state, it is difficult to remain optimistic. 

In 2011, the Greenville US Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Office, in collaboration with federal authorities, seized over $2 million [B] from two companies that were accused of transferring money to and from internet gamblers.  It was alleged that the companies managed to maneuver over $40 million through offshore online gambling sites to the United States, and charges, among others, included money laundering, fraud and the violation of the controversial Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).  The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office enjoyed over $700,000 from the spoils of war, and a major press conference was held to announce the results of the operation on the exact day of the five year anniversary of the UIGEA.

History of Gambling in South Carolina

1802
State Code 11-19-1 essentially outlaws all forms of gambling in South Carolina.

1990s
Thousands of video poker machines start popping up all over the state.

2000
South Carolina State Lottery created. South Carolina Supreme Court rules that video poker is unconstitutional and 33,000 machines are shut down.

2006
Catawba Tribe 2006 files a suit against the state for rights to operate video poker and other similar devices on sovereign land.

2007
Supreme Court rules against Native American rights to offer gambling.

2009
Illegal gambling convictions of five men overturned after they are found guilty of participating in a home poker game three years earlier. Supreme Court blocks referendum on video poker ban.

2011
State authorities collaborate with federal law enforcement to help grab $2 million from payment processors for online gambling and poker sites.

2012
South Carolina Supreme Court rules that home poker games are illegal and illegal convictions of five men (see 2009) should not have been overturned.

2014
On November 4th, South Carolina voters approved an Amendment to allow charitable raffles in their state. Before, bingo was the only gambling form of fundraising allowed for charitable causes.

2015
SC Representative, Todd Rutherford, filed a bill to allow the first casinos to be built in their state but it did not pass.

Land Based Poker in South Carolina

South Carolina does not offer any type of legal outlet for poker players to enjoy a game. There are no commercial or Indian casinos where poker rooms are available, nor are charitable poker games legal.

Anti gambling laws, dating from 1802, cover all games of cards or dice, even if no wagers are involved.  The relevant state code 11-19-1 et seq., Section 16-19-40 [C] states as follows:

“Any person shall play at any tavern, inn, store for the retailing of spirituous liquors or in any house used as a place of gaming, barn, kitchen, stable or other outhouse, street, highway, open wood, race field or open place at (a) any game with cards or dice, (b) any gaming table, commonly called A, B, C, or E, O, or any gaming table known or distinguished by any other letters or by any figures, (c) any roley-poley table, (d) rouge et noir, (e) any faro bank (f) any other table or bank of the same or the like kind under any denomination whatsoever or (g) any machine or device licensed pursuant to Section 12-21-2720 and used for gambling purposes, except the games of billiards, bowls, backgammon, chess, draughts, or whist when there is no betting on any such game of billiards, bowls, backgammon, chess, draughts, or whist or shall bet on the sides or hands of such as do game, upon being convicted thereof, before any magistrate, shall be imprisoned for a period of not over thirty days or fined not over one hundred dollars.”

Anybody caught flouting the law could be sentenced to a maximum prison sentence of 30 days and/or a $100 fine.  The law is bit tougher with those caught running gambling activities, frowning even more on those who offer gambling services “on the Sabbath day”.

Poker laws were challenged several times over the years, with the most notable case involving Bob Chimento and another 22 players who were playing poker in a house in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, when a police raid resulted in their arrest in 2006.  All but five players pleaded guilty and were made to pay small fines.  Chimento and four others, however, insisted on a jury trial.

“The reason we’re fighting the law is because we want to get our state representatives to change this law,” Chimento said. “We’re just a bunch of average Joes playing cards. We want to be able to play cards in our homes. They’re trying to intimidate people to quit playing poker.

For three years, the case dragged on until a surprise ruling in 2009 overturned the men’s convictions when Circuit Judge R. Markley Dennis rules that poker is a game of skill as opposed to a game of chance.  The judge noted that the 1802 law was, “unconstitutionally vague and overboard” and therefore, ruled on the reversal of the 2006 convictions.

Chimento and the other men’s joy was short-lived, however.  In November 2012, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that that the illegal gambling convictions of the men should not have been overturned and the state considers poker games, even those run in homes, as unlawful, regardless of whether poker is a game of skill or chance.

“Whether an activity is gaming/gambling is not dependent upon the relative roles of chance and skill, but whether there is money or something of value wagered on the game’s outcome,” wrote the judges in a ruling, incidentally, that was not unanimous.

Gambling Laws in South Carolina

Gambling options in South Carolina are scarce.  Besides the state run lottery, authorities allow a number of commercial cruises to depart from the state.  There are no commercial land based casinos to speak of, nor are there any tribal gaming options.

Laws covering gambling are the same that relate to poker as noted in the section, ‘Land Based Poker in South Carolina’.

South Carolina’s gambling issues were tested in 1990s when video poker casinos began popping up all over the state.   At their peak, there are 33,000 video poker machines in operation in a state of just over 30,000 square miles in size – around one video poker machine per square mile.

In 2011, the state Legislature voted to end all video poker gambling unless voters decided to keep the machines in place.  In the same year, the Supreme Court ruled that a referendum would be unconstitutional, but opted to leave the ban in place anyway.  The result was that a $3 billion annual revenue industry was literally shut down overnight on July 1st, 2012.

The Los Angeles Times [D] called it the “biggest rollback of legalized gambling in US history.”

SC Gambling Allowed

Indian Casinos in South Carolina

As noted, there are no tribal casinos in South Carolina.  The state’s only legally recognized tribe, the Catawba people set up enterprises to gain revenue from gambling when the federal government recognized the rights of Native Americans to conduct gambling on sovereign land.  The tribe formed a partnership with SPM Resorts of Myrtle Beach to manage bingo and casino operations, and the Catawbas ran a Rock Hill based bingo parlor for a number of years.  The facility was sold in 2007.  In 2006, the tribe filed a suit against the state for rights to operate video poker and other similar devices on sovereign land.  While they were successful in the lower courts, the Supreme Court overturned all prior rulings and refused to hear the tribe’s appeal in 2007.

Racing Laws in South Carolina

Non betting horse racing is allowed at Springdale Course Track in Camden, which is used for the Carolina Cup [E] and Colonial Cup International Steeplechase only.

Sports Betting in South Carolina

Sports betting is essentially illegal in South Carolina, and the state does not license nor authorize bookmaking businesses.  It is illegal for bookies to accept bets, and it is illegal for state residents to play bets.  Several offshore online bookmakers accept bettors from the state.

Lotteries in South Carolina

The South Carolina lottery is an official state run lottery known as the South Carolina Education Lottery [F].  Founded in 2000, the lottery does not allow the purchase of lottery tickets over the internet and these may only be purchased from a licensed retailer.  Lottery players have to be 18 years of age or older to buy a ticket.  Lottery tickets may be purchased by residents of other states, however they have to be purchased inside the state.  There are no sales tax charges on lottery tickets, while the SCEL will withhold taxes from lottery winnings over $500. Prizes need to be redeemed within 90 days of the end of a scratch card game, or 180 days in the case of larger lotteries. The lottery offers instant games such as Pick 3, Pick 4, Palmetto Cash 5 and Carolina Cash 6, as well as major national lotteries such as Powerball and Mega Millions.

South Carolina Cruise Casinos

There are two casino cruises that are allowed to depart from South Carolina shores and offer casino and poker.  The Diamond Girl 2 Casino Cruise (Big M) offers 200 slot machines, 12 table games and 2 poker tables, with anybody under the age of 21 denied the right to board the boat.  The SunCruz Casino of Myrtle Beach [G] offers 470 slot machines, 22 table games and five poker tables.  The allowable gambling age is 18 years old.  The boats sail three miles out into international waters, where they anchor to allow gambling to take place.

Laws governing cruise casinos are found under Section 3-11-100 [H] which defines a gambling vessel as, “boat, ship, casino boat, watercraft, or barge kept, operated or maintained for the purpose of gambling, with one or more gaming establishments aboard, that carries or operates gambling devices for the use of its passengers or otherwise provides facilities for the purpose of gambling, whether within or without the jurisdiction of this state, and whether it is anchored, berthed, lying to, or navigating, and the sailing, voyaging, or cruising or any segment of the sailing, voyaging or cruising begin and ends within this state.”

Charitable Gambling in South Carolina

Social bingo games are allowed in South Carolina, subject to strict regulations of the department which oversees this pastime, the SC Department of Revenue’s Bingo Licensing and Enforcement [I].  As of November 4, 2014, charitable raffles are now allowed. Laws governing charitable gambling in South Carolina are listed under Section 12-21-3950 [J].  “A promoter under contract with a licensed non-profit organization to manage, operate, or conduct a game shall file a written application for a promoter’s license in a form prescribed by the department.”  There are essentially six different classes of bingo, Class AA, B, C, D, E and F, some of which come with a cost and others not.  Admission fees are subject to the class of the license.

Author: Joseph Falchetti (twitter)
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References and Citations

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