Legal Online Gambling in South Carolina

An Overview Of The Gambling Laws In South Carolina

If you said that South Carolina were restrictive in their legal position on gambling, then you could be rightly accused of ‘putting things mildly’. After Utah, this is the most restricted State when it comes to having the freedom to enjoy gambling games. There are no casinos (except cruises), no sports betting, poker is illegal and only very limited bingo gaming and the lottery exist here. This article gives you an overview of the Gambling laws of South Carolina.

First below, you will find a fast-paced history of the gambling legislation in this State – this covers crack-downs as much as progress. After that a list of the forms of gambling is provided, along with a short status update on the legality of each one. Next come excerpts from the South Carolina Statutes, along with a legal timeline of key dates. Finally, a summary and look to the future can be found at the end of the page.

South Carolina Gambling Laws – A Brief History

In South Carolina any game involving cards, dice or any form of betting are illegal – and this State have shown that they are keen on the enforcement side of things too. The only legitimate gambling format the South Carolina residents can enjoy is their lottery. This started in 2001, and now includes inter-state games including the PowerBall and Mega Millions. Tickets can be bought around the clock from terminals.

Bingo games can also be enjoyed via this State’s charity gambling laws. These games are severely limited in terms of prize money, and must be individually licensed by the State. Tribal groups have tried to establish high-stakes bingo on their land since 1993, though have been repeatedly blocked from doing this by the authorities.

There are casino boats operating from coastal counties, which have been the subject of litigation for many years. The counties tried to ban these boats, only to be told that they did not have the authority to do this (the boats travel to international waters and allow gambling there). After many years of court decisions, and agreement was reached in 2008. The boats were allowed to operate in return for a $7 per passenger levy to the counties.

Poker games have also been the subject of litigation, in a case called Mt Pleasant V. Chimento  a raid on a small poker home game quickly escalated into a multi-year legal battle. First, the players of this game were convicted in 2006, only to see a 2009 appeal succeed on the basis that poker was a game of skill and so not covered by the laws. In turn this ‘Skill Game’ ruling was overturned by the South Carolina Supreme Court in 2012. As things stand we have a strong president in this State that poker is illegal under current gambling laws. Online poker is assumed by the authorities to be covered by these laws, though there is nothing specifically mentioning this in the statute books.

What Forms Of Gambling Are Legal?

Casino Gaming: No, there are no casinos on South Carolina territory, or on tribal lands within it. Residents can join ‘Casino Cruises’ which sail 3 miles out into international waters.

Online Casinos: No, the legislation pre-dates the internet, though the wording is vague enough to easily encompass online gambling.

Live Poker: No, even home-games are ruled illegal, in fact you do not even have to play for money in South Carolina to be in contravention of the law.

Online Poker: No, based on the existing anti-gambling stance there is little to indicate that South Carolina would ever join the regulated online poker States.

Sports Betting: No, you can enjoy horse racing, though betting on this in any form is illegal.

Lottery Betting: Yes, there is a State lottery and even a limited form of lottery machines here.

Bingo Games: Yes, charitable gambling is allowed here as long as it is licensed.

South Carolina Gambling Laws – Statutes And Legal Timeline

The combination of broadly worded Statutes, and courts that seem keen to set presidents outlawing gambling, combine to keep both tribal and commercial gambling out of South Carolina. In fact, the laws are so broad that all games involving dice and cards are illegal, whether any money or wagering is involved or not – especially on Sundays. In addition, gambling debts are non-enforceable and even keeping a gaming table falls foul of the SC laws.

Here is the key excerpt:

“Any person who shall at any time or sitting, by playing at cards, dice table or any other game whatsoever or by betting on the sides or hands of such as do play at any of the games aforesaid, lose to any person or persons so playing or betting,” (From Section 32-1-10)

Here is the part about keeping gaming tables:

“Any person who shall set up, keep, or use any (a) 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, (b) roley-poley table, (c) table to play at rouge et noir, (d) faro bank (e) any other gaming table or bank of the like kind or of any other kind for the purpose of gaming”

Below are some key dates in the legislative timeline of South Carolina:

1976: Initial ‘Bingo Act’ legislation passed, legalizing charitable gaming albeit under very limited circumstances. The requirement to have an individual license was added in 1986 and the definition of non-profit organization further amended in 1996. Electronic machines were permitted to play Bingo games in 2004.

1999: Supreme Court upholds decision permitting Casino Cruises, this would be the subject of litigation by coastal counties trying to ban them until 2008, when a passenger levy was introduced.

2001: Lottery signed into law, with the first draw taking place one year later. 2008 saw the sale of tickets via electronic terminals, and 2009 saw inter-State games such as the PowerBall offered.

2006: Poker home-game raid leads to a multi-year battle through the Courts. The players were originally found guilty, then an appeal that poker was exempted as a ‘game of skill’ overturned these convictions in 2009. A subsequent appeal by the State to their supreme court upheld the original verdicts in 2012. The current position is that Texas Holdem home games are illegal under existing Statutes.

South Carolina Gambling Laws – Summary And Next Steps

It seems fair to say that the anti-gambling lobby has won the day in South Carolina, and there is little to be hoped for in the way of progress. Tribal groups continue to press, though have not succeeded in introducing gambling to their lands yet. The boats continue to offer the best option for casino fans, though these are limited by their size.

It does not look as if South Carolina will be joining any drive to regulate and allow online gambling to their residents based on their view of gambling at this time.

Useful Resources:


Summary Of Statutes

History Of Gambling In The South (Multi-State)

Cruises Act