South Carolina Casino Legalization Supported by Residents, Georgia Folds on Efforts

Posted on: February 28, 2017, 12:05h. 

Last updated on: February 28, 2017, 11:33h.

The South Carolina casino effort to authorize commercial gambling is now being backed by perhaps the most powerful voice in the state, the voters, as a new poll finds that nearly seven in 10 residents supports legalization.

South Carolina casino Henry McMaster
Residents are embracing South Carolina casinos, but new Republican Governor Henry McMaster, who replaced Nikki Haley after she agreed to become US ambassador to the United Nations, isn’t expected to get behind gambling. (Image: Mic Smith/Associated Press)

Conducted by Winthrop University, the poll asked respondents whether they would support legislation to allow a limited number of casinos in the state under the condition that tax revenue generated from gambling be earmarked to pay for roads and infrastructure. Sixty-eight percent said they would favor such a measure, while only 30 percent opposed the question.

Mandating that money collected from the gambling be used for roads and infrastructure substantially raises South Carolina casino support. When the tax income would be simply directed to Columbia with no spending stipulation, only 54 percent favored legalization, with 42 percent opposed.

“That is literally earth shattering,” State Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Richland) told The State newspaper. “What South Carolinians said in this poll is that they are tired of the Republicans digging into their pockets and taking their tax money when there is another alternative.”

Georgia Lottery Beats Casinos’ Hope

Gambling has expanded throughout the US over the last decade, specifically in the northeast where casinos have become a lifeline for state governments to welcome new sources of revenue without directly placing a tax hardship on citizens. But in the conservative south, many jurisdictions have stayed away from the “sin sector.”

However, Georgia, South Carolina’s immediate neighbor to the west, mulled casino legislation this year.

Efforts to bring Atlanta its first commercial casino attracted the attention of major gambling companies including MGM, Wynn Resorts, Golden Nugget, Las Vegas Sands, and Penn National Gaming. It also attracted the eyes of certain South Carolina lawmakers who worried that lottery revenues could be siphoned away should casinos be within driving distance.

Though it once seemed as if Georgia might actually move forward with a casino bill, this week Senate Bill 79, authored by Peach State Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), died in committee. Beach says he isn’t discouraged, and plans to “double down” and build support for the bill for 2018.

Slim Chances

The odds of South Carolina casinos being permitted seemed like a long shot to begin with, and now that Georgia is remaining gambling-free, Rutherford has even more convincing to do.

The Republican Party controls both the House and Senate, and also the governor’s office with Henry McMaster. Conservatives in South Carolina remain adamantly opposed to embracing gambling, regardless of the fact that the state desperately needs money to fund obligations it owes to its government pension program.

Rutherford has routinely pointed his finger at the GOP for leading the state into poor fiscal health. “If this state was operated like a business, we would have had casinos years ago,” the politician said recently.

While congresspersons don’t write state laws, it’s worth noting that US Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) represents the Palmetto State in Washington, DC, and his anti-gambling views are certainly well-known back home. He was one of the original backers of the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), which hoped to overturn a 2011 Department of Justice reinterpretation of the 1961 measure that banned most forms of non-land-based gaming at the federal level.

To date, the bill (which also has the support and financial backing of Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson) has largely met with indifference from both houses.