S.C. House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford says a U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday allowing states to legalize sports gambling couldn't have come at a worse time.
The S.C. House representative from Columbia sponsored a bill in the Legislature this past session that, he said, would have put South Carolina in position to take advantage of the ruling that came down Monday.
By amending the state Constitution, Rutherford's bill would have allowed legalized betting on horse racing and professional sports, among other forms of gambling, as a way to raise more revenue for the state.
But Monday, only days after the S.C. Legislature adjourned for the year, the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 law that barred most states from having sports betting. That timing means that South Carolina's Legislature won't have a chance to take up Rutherford's bill again until January.
Rutherford, D-Richland, worries other states will rush to pass their own gambling laws in the meantime, getting a jump on the Palmetto State.
"The money is too huge for states to ignore it," he said.
John Grady, an assistant professor of sports entertainment management at the University of South Carolina, said there won't be a shortage of states looking to cash in on the court's decision. The case reached the high court after New Jersey passed its own gambling law, allowing sports gambling, in 2011.
"States will rush to legalize it. New Jersey could do it within weeks," Grady said. "There are about 20 states ready with legislation to put in place."
But those states already have some form of legalized gambling, unlike South Carolina, where only the lottery is legal and anti-gambling laws, dating back to colonial times, historically have been so strict, it has been difficult for charities to hold raffles.
"The first states to do it will be more embracing of gambling," Grady said. "South Carolina will wait and see how they do."
Timing isn't the only hurdle to legalized sports gambling in South Carolina.
S.C. Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said he expects there to be "a healthy dose of skepticism" toward any new gambling measures when the Legislature returns to Columbia next January for its regular session.
(Legislators are scheduled to return to Columbia later this month and in June, but only to consider particular topics, not proposals — like Rutherford's — that have yet to be acted on.)
"We don't want to accidentally legalize video poker, which is how it was legalized in the first place," Massey said, who supports the Supreme Court's ruling allowing states to set their own sports gaming rules. "If there will be any attempt to authorize additional gambling, I think it will be received suspiciously."
Legalizing sports betting in South Carolina will be difficult, said Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who wrote legislation in 2014 to specify that private card games are not illegal under state law.
"If the struggle I had in 2014 to legalize social, non-betting games is any indication, those seeking to legalize sports betting in our state have a tough row to hoe," Davis said.
Sports betting could be offered in 32 states within five years, a firm that tracks gambling legislation predicts.
That firm, Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, predicts North Carolina will be one of those states, followed, a couple of years later, by Georgia. South Carolina might never permit the gambling, Eilers & Kerjcik said.
But Rutherford thinks delaying legalizing sports betting in South Carolina would be a mistake, saying the state could make billions from legalized gambling.
"I've been to Camden for the Carolina Cup, and everybody is betting," he said. "Anybody who is still leery at this point should be thrown out of office."