The legislation incorporates a bill pushed by state Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun, to allow horse race gambling through advanced deposit wagering. Ott’s legislation also has companion bill in the Senate proposed by state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington. The Senate bill has 19 cosponsors.
Though sports gambling isn’t legal in South Carolina, an estimated $2.3 billion in illegal bets are placed in the state, lawmakers say.
“I recognize how much of this is going on illegally and unsanctioned, and without any sort of oversight,” said Ways and Means Chairman Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville. “It doesn’t make sense for us to put our head in the sand and pretend like it’s not going on and that the government shouldn’t have some role in making sure the folks who are taking those bets are legitimate operators.”
The legislation is expected to spill over into next year, as the Ways and Means Committee is only now taking it up late in the legislative year.
“This is a longer process. This isn’t something we’re gonna rush through, and it won’t rush through the Senate either,” Bannister said.
Legislative efforts started last year to allow advanced deposit wagering on horse races in South Carolina, as a way to help the equine industry in the state. Those bills have since been reintroduced.
The sports betting proposal incorporates Ott’s bill to legalize horse race betting. Under the legislation, 95% of revenue collected from taxes on horse race wagering would be used to provide grants for the purpose of improving and developing South Carolina’s equine-related agriculture, business and recreation.
Ott’s standalone bill on horse race betting also is in the House and is expected to be debated next week.
However, focus within the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee is the bill that incorporate wagers on sporting events and horse races. State Rep. Chris Murphy, R-Dorchester, said this is the most progress the state has made on a sports wagering bill. He said he doesn’t know if any other bills have had hearings.
“South Carolina’s historically very socially conservative, and gambling is considered something that’s not in line with those views,” Bannister said. “I think it’s a harder issue to talk about.”
As part of the legislation, a South Carolina Equine and Sports Wagering Commission would pick a master operator within the state to help administer the program. The master operator and commission would pick who gets the four sports betting licenses allowed under the bill. Those entities could include operations such as Draft Kings or Fan Duel.
The master operator also would be an entity people in the state would report problems to, Murphy said.
“We wanted somebody who was established that has some business acumen and everything that can actually knows how to run a business,” Murphy said.
The PGA and NASCAR also would be able to pick a sports betting operator to give a license to, because those two entities have physical presences in South Carolina.
Whoever gets the licenses, however, has to be operating in at least five states.
“You can’t be some fly by night operation,” Murphy said. “These will be established entities that come to South Carolina.”
A company’s adjusted gross revenue, which includes money a company makes off of wagers, would be taxed at 10% under the bill as written, bringing in up to $22.5 million a year in tax revenue.
Under the legislation, 80% of the revenue generated would go to the state general fund, 15% to local government, and 5% would go toward responsible gaming oversight.
Joseph Bustos is a state government and politics reporter at The State. He’s a Northwestern University graduate and previously worked in Illinois covering government and politics. He has won reporting awards in both Illinois and Missouri. He moved to South Carolina in November 2019. Support my work with a digital subscription