Like many other states in the nation, South Carolina was slowly expanding its gambling industry in the 90s. At one point, local gas stations and convenience stores were operating more than 34,000 video poker machines.
As is often the case, the widespread access to such terminals was opposed by many Church groups and anti-gambling activists. However, unlike in other gambling-friendly states, these groups were able to spark mass hysteria due to a tragic event involving a careless mother whose child suffocated while she was busy playing video poker.
Outraged voters demanded a referendum on whether video poker terminals should remain legal, but the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that such a referendum would be unconstitutional and ordered all gambling devices to be unplugged by June 30, 2000.
The industry was subsequently dismantled, putting thousands of people out of work. Local gambling proponents never recovered from this staggering defeat, and South Carolina remains almost completely devoid of legal casino-style gaming options to this day. The only exception is two casino cruise ships owned by the Big M Casino company.
To make matters worse, South Carolina regulations are ambiguous about gambling over the internet. The definition of unlawful gambling provided in the South Carolina Code of Laws, Section 16-19-40, states that any person caught playing “(a) any game with cards or dice, (b) any gaming table (…), (c) any roley-poley table, (d) rouge et noir, (e) any faro bank (f) any other table or bank of the same or the like kind under any denomination whatsoever or (g) any machine or device licensed pursuant to Section 12-21-2720” at “any tavern, inn, store for the retailing of spirituous liquors or in any house used as a place of gaming, barn, kitchen, stable or other outhouse, street, highway, open wood, race field or open place” shall be “imprisoned for a period of not over thirty days or fined not over one hundred dollars.”
Online gambling isn’t specifically mentioned, but players can get in trouble over home games, as established by a 2009 Supreme Court ruling. In addition, South Carolina bans playing any games on Sundays. The penalty for breaking this rule is a fine of up to $50, but local authorities don’t tend to enforce it due to its outdated nature.
Gambling-related matters are covered in the South Carolina Code of Laws, Section 16-19-40 et seq. The minimum gambling age is 18 for lottery games and 21 for casino cruises.
South Carolina Code of Laws
Title 32 – Contracts and Agents
SECTION 32-1-10. Suit by loser at cards or other game for recovery of losses.
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, in the whole, the sum or value of fifty dollars and shall pay or deliver such sum or value or any part thereof shall be at liberty, within three months then next ensuing, to sue for and recover the money or goods so lost and paid or delivered or any part thereof from the respective winner or winners thereof, with costs of suit, by action to be prosecuted in any court of competent jurisdiction.
SECTION 32-1-20. Suit by person other than loser for recovery of losses.
In case any person who shall lose such money or other thing as aforesaid shall not, within the time aforesaid, really and bona fide and without covin or collusion sue and with effect prosecute for the money or other things so by him or them lost and paid and delivered as aforesaid, it shall be lawful for any other person, by any such action or suit as aforesaid, to sue for and recover the same and treble the value thereof, with costs of suit, against such winner or winners as aforesaid, the one moiety thereof to the use of the person that will sue for the same and the other moiety to the use of the county in which the offense shall have been committed.
SECTION 32-1-30. Orders for discovery.
Any person who, by virtue of the provisions herein contained, shall or may be liable to be sued for such moneys or other things so won shall be obliged and compellable to answer, upon oath, such order as shall be made against him for discovering the sum of money or other things so won at play as aforesaid.
SECTION 32-1-40. Notes or other securities or conveyances given to secure wagers are void.
All notes, bills, bonds, judgments, mortgages or other securities or conveyances whatsoever given, granted, entered into or executed by any person whatsoever when the whole or any part of the consideration of such conveyances or securities shall be (a) for any money or valuable thing whatsoever won by cockfighting, horse racing or by gaming or playing at cards, dice tables, tennis, bowls, or other game whatsoever or by betting on the sides or hands of such as do game at any of the games aforesaid or any other game or games or (b) for the reimbursing or repaying any money knowingly lent or advanced at the time and place of such cockfighting, horse racing or play to any person (i) so gaming or betting as aforesaid or (ii) that shall, during such cockfighting, horse racing or play, so bet shall be utterly void, frustrate and of none effect to all intents and purposes whatsoever.
SECTION 32-1-50. Mortgages or other conveyances of land given to secure wagers are void.
When such mortgages, securities or other conveyances shall be of lands, tenements or hereditaments or shall be such as to encumber or affect the same, such mortgages, securities or other conveyances shall enure and be to and for the sole use and benefit of, and shall devolve upon, such person or persons as shall have been or may be entitled to such lands, tenements or hereditaments in case the grantor thereof or the person or persons so encumbering the same had been dead and as if such mortgages, securities or other conveyances had been made to such person or persons by the person so encumbering the same. And all grants and conveyances to be made for the preventing of such lands, tenements or hereditaments from coming to, or devolving upon, such person or persons hereby intended to enjoy them as aforesaid shall be deemed fraudulent and void and of none effect, to all intents and purposes whatsoever.
SECTION 32-1-60. Application of statutes to gambling activities not authorized by law.
Beginning on the effective date of this section, the provisions of Sections 32-1-10, 32-1-20, and 32-1-30 apply only to those gambling activities not authorized by law.
SECTION 16-19-10. Setting up lotteries.
Whoever shall publicly or privately erect, set up, or expose to be played or drawn at or shall cause or procure to be erected, set up, or exposed to be played, drawn, or thrown at any lottery under the denomination of sales of houses, lands, plate, jewels, goods, wares, merchandise, or other things whatsoever or for money or by any undertaking whatsoever, in the nature of a lottery, by way of chances, either by dice, lots, cards, balls, numbers, figures, or tickets or who shall make, write, print or publish, or cause to be made, written, or published any scheme or proposal for any of the purposes aforesaid is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be fined one thousand dollars and imprisoned for one year. One-third of the fine imposed shall be paid to the person, if any, who informed law enforcement officials or other appropriate authorities about the violation which led to the conviction. Each violation constitutes a separate offense.
[South Carolina has authorized a state lottery.
SECTION 16-19-20. Adventuring in lotteries.
Whoever shall be adventurer in or shall pay any moneys or other consideration or shall in any way contribute unto or upon account of any sales or lotteries shall forfeit for every such offense the sum of one hundred dollars to be recovered with costs of suit, by action or indictment in any court of competent jurisdiction in this State, one moiety thereof to and for the use of the State and the other moiety thereof to the person who shall inform and sue for the same.
SECTION 16-19-30. Selling lottery tickets.
It shall be unlawful to offer for sale any lottery tickets or to open or keep any office for the sale of lottery tickets, and if any person shall offend against any of the provisions of this section he shall, on conviction thereof, forfeit and pay to the State a sum not exceeding ten thousand dollars. The county treasurer of the county in which such offense occurs shall prosecute the offender.
SECTION 16-19-40. Unlawful games and betting.
If any person shall play at any tavern, inn, store for the retailing of spirituous liquors or in any house used as a place of gaming, barn, kitchen, stable or other outhouse, street, highway, open wood, race field or open place at (a) any game with cards or dice, (b) any 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, (c) any roley-poley table, (d) rouge et noir, (e) any faro bank (f) any other table or bank of the same or the like kind under any denomination whatsoever or (g) any machine or device licensed pursuant to Section 12-21-2720 and used for gambling purposes, except the games of billiards, bowls, backgammon, chess, draughts, or whist when there is no betting on any such game of billiards, bowls, backgammon, chess, draughts, or whist or shall bet on the sides or hands of such as do game, upon being convicted thereof, before any magistrate, shall be imprisoned for a period of not over thirty days or fined not over one hundred dollars, and every person so keeping such tavern, inn, retail store, public place, or house used as a place for gaming or such other house shall, upon being convicted thereof, upon indictment, be imprisoned for a period not exceeding twelve months and forfeit a sum not exceeding two thousand dollars, for each and every offense..
SECTION 16-19-50. Keeping unlawful 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, or (f) any machine or device licensed pursuant to Section 12-21-2720 and used for gambling purposes except the games of billiards, bowls, chess, draughts, and backgammon, upon being convicted thereof, upon indictment, shall forfeit a sum not exceeding five hundred dollars and not less than two hundred dollars.
SECTION 16-19-70. Keeping gaming tables open or playing games on the Sabbath.
Whoever shall keep or suffer to be kept any gaming table or permit any game or games to be played in his house on the Sabbath day, on conviction thereof before any court having jurisdiction, shall be fined in the sum of fifty dollars, to be sued for on behalf of, and to be recovered for the use of, the State.
SECTION 16-19-80. Forfeiture of wagers.
All and every sum or sums of money staked, betted or pending on the event of any such game or games as aforesaid are hereby declared to be forfeited.
SECTION 16-19-90. Betting on elections.
Any person who shall make any bet or wager of money or wager of any other thing of value or shall have any share or part in any bet or wager of money or wager of any other thing of value upon any election in this State shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be fined in a sum not exceeding five hundred dollars and be imprisoned not exceeding one month.
SECTION 16-19-100. Imprisonment in case of conviction.
Upon conviction of any person under any of the provisions of Sections 16-19-40, 16-19-50 or 16-19-90, the court before whom such conviction shall take place shall commit such offender to the common jail of the county in which such conviction shall happen for a period not exceeding the time for which such offender has been sentenced, unless such offender shall sooner pay the fine or fines herein imposed, together with the cost of prosecution.
SECTION 16-19-110. Exoneration for becoming State’s evidence.
Any person who might be subject or liable to the fines and penalties imposed herein, either for gaming at or keeping a gaming table or tables, shall, upon being permitted by the circuit solicitor to become evidence in behalf of the State, be freed and exonerated from the same.
SECTION 16-19-120. Officers shall destroy gambling devices after confiscation.
All officers of the law in whose care, possession or keeping may be placed any gambling or gaming machine or device of any kind whatsoever or any gambling or gaming punchboard of any kind or description whatsoever which has been confiscated for violation of any criminal law or laws of this State shall immediately after conviction of the violator of the law destroy the same.
SECTION 16-19-130. Betting, pool selling, bookmaking and the like are prohibited.
Any person within this State who:
(1) Engages in betting at any race track, pool selling or bookmaking, with or without writing, at any time or place;
(2) Keeps or occupies any room, shed, tenement, booth, building, float or vessel, or any part thereof, or occupies any place or stand of any kind upon any public or private grounds within this State with books, papers, apparatus or paraphernalia for the purpose of recording or registering bets or wagers or of selling pools;
(3) Records or registers bets or wagers or sells pools or makes books, with or without writing, upon the result of any (a) trial or contest of skill, speed or power of endurance of man or beast, (b) political nomination, appointment or election or (c) lot, chance, casualty, unknown or contingent event whatsoever;
(4) Receives, registers, records or forwards or purports or pretends to receive, register, record or forward, in any manner whatsoever, any money, thing or consideration of value bet or wagered or offered for the purpose of being bet or wagered by or for any other person or sells pools upon any such result;
(5) Being the owner, lessee or occupant of any room, shed, tenement, tent, booth, building, float or vessel, or part thereof, or of any grounds within this State knowingly permits the same to be used or occupied for any of these purposes or therein keeps, exhibits or employs any device or apparatus for the purpose of recording or registering such bets or wagers or the selling of such pools or becomes the custodian or depository for gain, hire or reward of any money, property or thing of value staked, wagered or pledged or to be wagered or pledged upon any such result; or
(6) Aids, assists or abets in any manner in any of the aforesaid acts, which are hereby forbidden;
Shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars or imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court.
SECTION 16-19-140. Violation of Section 16-19-130 constitutes a nuisance.
The violation of any of the provisions of Section 16-19-130 shall be deemed a common nuisance.
SECTION 16-19-150. Punishment of offense covered by Section 16-19-40.
Notwithstanding the provisions of Sections 16-19-130 and 16-19-140, wherever the offense is covered by Section 16-19-40, the punishment there provided shall be imposed, it being the intention to leave the jurisdiction of such gambling as is there specifically prohibited in the courts now having jurisdiction of the same.
SECTION 16-19-160. Punchboards for gaming.
It shall be unlawful for any person to use or offer for use any punchboards or other kinds of boards with numbers concealed thereon for the purpose of gaming or chance in this State. Any person violating this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction thereof shall be fined not less than ten dollars nor more than twenty-five dollars or imprisoned not less than five days nor more than thirty days, or both, at the discretion of the court; provided, that for the second or third offense hereunder the fine shall not be less than twenty-five dollars nor more than one hundred dollars or imprisonment on the public works of the county for a period not exceeding three months.