Efforts in South Carolina to legalize wagering on horse racing are underway in the state capital. But while backers of the bill met at the State House yesterday with much fanfare to celebrate the introducing of the statute, the odds of it passing are slim at best.
The bipartisan legislation, Bill 1128 — the South Carolina Equine Advancement Act — comes from state Rep. Russell Ott (D-Calhoun) and Sen. Katrina Shealy (R-Lexington). The two say allowing South Carolinians to bet on horse races run both in the state and across the country over the internet will greatly benefit the horsemen but also the state economy.
The proposed legislation would allow a single mobile parimutuel wagering operator to facilitate remote betting on horse races over the internet. The state would benefit by collecting a 10% tax on gross revenue.
Ott reasoned his support is to help eradicate illegal bookies from the state.
“It’s trackable, it’s transparent, and we are able to keep our arms around it as a state,” Ott said.
The tax revenue would be predominantly allocated towards South Carolina’s equine industry. The funds would support jockeys and trainers, plus grant programs.
South Carolina has been steadfastly opposed to nearly all forms of gambling for many decades. The state only legalized a lottery in 2000, and school raffles and church bingo were prohibited until 2015.
State lawmakers have long been hesitant to authorize even the slightest of gambling-related activities in fear that it would initiate a chain reaction and lead to South Carolina becoming a gaming state. Ott contends it’s time for the state to reap the tax benefits of gambling that is already occurring through unlawful channels.
We are not talking about opening casinos. We’re not talking about different forms of brick and mortar or bookies or even walking up to a teller at a horse race and placing a bet,” Ott said.
Horse racing remains a viable industry in South Carolina. The South Carolina Department of Agriculture says the state equine industry has a $1.9 billion annual economic impact on the state and supports 29,000 jobs. Legal betting, Ott and others say, could double the industry.
House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford (D-Richland) supports the liberalization of betting on horse racing.
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” Rutherford said. “It legalizes conduct that people are already engaging in.”
No Way, No How
Backers of the online horse racing effort are likely wasting their time. Even if the bill would gain the needed two-thirds majority support in each chamber — as the bill seeks to amend the South Carolina Constitution — the legislation would need to go to Governor Henry McMaster (R).
McMaster has said he will veto any gambling legislation that reaches his desk. Even if McMaster were to change his stance — or the legislature somehow manage to override his veto — the online horse racing betting question would still need the people’s support.
A ballot referendum during a statewide election would require a simple majority support to amend the state constitution and allow people inside the state aged 21 and older to bet on horse races online.
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