From the Reconstruction period following the Civil War straight through to the 1980s, absolutely no gambling was permitted under the law. The federal IGRA law passed in 1988 registered nearly a blip on the South Carolina gambling industry’s radar and law enforcement even recently reiterated the illegality of home-based poker games with a series of high-profile court cases and appeals which ended in 2013.
Then again, there is this casino cruise leaving the coast daily…
Population: 4.832 million (2014 est.)
Area: 32,020 sq. mi.
Gambling Age (Casinos): 21
Gambling Age (Lottery): 18
Number of Casinos: 1*
• South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union before the Civil War.
• To practice fortune-telling professionally in South Carolina, one must obtain a license from the state.
• The first game of golf in the U.S. was played in Charlestown.
• Wadmalaw Island is home to the United States’ only tea plantation.
South Carolina has taken a hard stance on gambling even before its secession in the 1860s that triggered the Civil War. When the revised state constitution was put into law in 1876, all forms of betting from lotteries to dice and card games were strictly prohibited. Charity raffles and bingo were finally legalized in the 1980s, but while the passage of the federal Indian Regulatory Gaming Act (IGRA) in 1988 was a game-changer for most states’ gambling industries, anti-gambling interests were only strengthened in South Carolina.
Under the auspices of the IGRA and then-extant laws regarding bingo, South Carolina’s sole federally recognized Native American tribe, the Catawba people, sought to open two bingo halls on their 700 acres of land in York County. After five years of legal wrangling, the tribe and state authorities reached an agreement in 1993 to open the bingo halls. The Rock Hill Bingo Parlor opened for business in ’97.
In 2000, perhaps so as to prevent the Catawba from expanding their offering, the state legislature passed a law which illegalized the operation or *possession* of video poker machines. Year 2002 saw South Carolina introduce a state lottery; the bingo hall’s management claimed profits immediately fell by 60% due to the new state lottery and this gaming parlor was closed in ’06.
The 2000s also saw legislative efforts to control, or, more commonly, eliminate, cruise-ship gambling on these boats leaving from South Carolina ports; this ships offered all the amenities of Vegas-style casino gambling (including buffets) after sailing out to international waters. In 2008, a compromise was reached, thus allowing the boats to continue to do business in exchange for a levy paid on each passenger. No matter: High maintenance costs and legal fees had put most of the handful of operators deep in the hole financially, and today only one of these sails from South Carolina.
And now even the worldwide poker craze of the 2000s could withstand an assault from South Carolina’s regressively-thinking politicos. In 2006, four men were convicted of illegally gambling after a raid on a home poker game. An appeal in ’09 overturned the conviction, but the state’s supreme court upheld the original ruling in ’12.
South Carolina has been reduced to one outlet for casino gambling: The Big M Casino. In actuality two boats run by the same company, The Big M leaves from Little River from one to four times daily year ‘round.
The Catawba Bingo Hall, relocated and reopened in 2015, allows play by those aged 18 years or older. To board the Big M cruise ship casinos, one must be 21 to enter. Note, too, that women more than six months’ pregnant may not necessarily be allowed onto the Big M. Weird.
Fitting that “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, who paid just about the heftiest price possible for merely associating with illegal gambling, is from such a virulently anti-gambling state of South Carolina.
Jackson was of course the greatest player on the great 1919 Chicago White Sox team that would later become known as the “Black Sox” when eight players and five professional gamblers were indicted I a plot to fix the World Series and give the title to the longshot Cincinnati Reds. To this day, Jackson’s culpability in the crime in questioned; Jackson could not have read the documentation he signed, acknowledging his part in the crime, as he was illiterate. Additionally, no actual play on the field suggests that Jackson played below his usual all-star standard.
No matter: The face of both professional baseball and gambling on sports in the United States changed as a result of the scandal: The owners of Major League Baseball’s 16 franchises created the position of commissioner to rule over the game. Said first commissioner loftily proclaimed (paraphrasing here via the excellent film Eight Men Out), “…no player who throws a ball game, no player who undertakes, or promises to throw a game, no player who sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing a ball game are discussed, and does not promptly tell his club about it will ever play professional baseball again.”
This can be summed up in one word: “no.” With the exception of licensure carved out for the state lottery, the bingo hall and the cruise ships, there are no casinos, no poker, no sports betting, no daily fantasy sports betting, and no more high-stakes bingo.
Since the Catawba are giving gambling another go with their new bingo hall, the natural limit of gambling in South Carolina has been reached. Anyone interested in gambling in South Carolina had just better hope that Big M can maintain a reasonable profit margin because if these ships go out of business, lawmakers will certainly strike these entities from the “legally permissible” list.
Sure, some legislators sympathetic to the cause of legalized gambling introduce bills at the state government level. Bills to expand offerings were put forth in 2011, ’16 and ’17, but resistace to such expansion is well too strong to expect any changes at any time in the near future.