If you’re gambling legally in South Carolina these days you’re only doing so on a casino boat in international waters, but that could all change if the results of a new poll are an accurate indicator that residents’ attitudes toward gambling in the Palmetto State are changing.
Earlier this month, in response to a Winthrop University poll, 54 percent of residents asked said they were in favor of allowing casinos in the state. Some 42 percent were opposed to the idea, three percent weren’t certain, and one percent of those polled refused to answer, according to an exclusive report from The State newspaper. When asked the same question with the addition of a pledge to utilize casino revenues for road repair, that 54 percent increased to 68 percent, while the number of those opposed was reduced to 30 percent.
Those results vary a good deal from the Winthrop Poll conducted in October 2014, when 47.3 percent of the state’s residents said they were in support of allowing a limited number of casinos in the state and 47.3 percent were opposed to the idea, according to the news agency.
The author of the casino bill, State Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland called the results of the polls, “earth shattering.” He said, “What South Carolinians said in this poll is that they are tired of the Republicans digging into their pockets and taking their tax money when there is another alternative.” Rutherford added, “These poll numbers suggest Republicans need to get a grip on what the rest of South Carolina is saying, which is that it’s time to move forward and do so in a progressive way,” according to the report.
The results of the polls have reenergized lawmakers who say the voters should be allowed to decide whether or not casinos should be legalized in the state. Less convinced by the polls, however, is the Republican-controlled S.C. House, which remains staunchly opposed to the legalization of casinos in the state. GOP lawmakers, who also hold a majority of the state Senate seats, say that increasing gambling will also increase crime and addiction. State Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, told the news agency that he doesn’t think that “gambling is a solution to our problems.” Massey said, “It likely creates even more problems. I can’t imagine that 68 percent of my constituents would support that.”
Proponents of legalization say that each year, hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue could be generated for the state with the addition of resort-styled casinos south of Charlotte, in Myrtle Beach, and across the border in neighboring Georgia from Savannah. The money could be used to repair the state’s roads, which have seen better days and are a legislative priority, according to the news agency.
If successful, and the proposal becomes law, South Carolina would join states such as Maine, Ohio, Kansas, Maryland, and others, which in the last decade have legalized commercial gaming to address budget issues. It won’t be easy though, as Rutherford’s proposal requires an amendment to the state Constitution. A two-thirds majority of legislators in both State House chambers would have to agree to allow voters to decide the fate of the proposal in the next general election.
Some Republicans, however, aren’t too confident in the poll results. Greg Delleney, R-Chester and House Judiciary Committee chair, said that after the surprise Election Day victory in November by President Donald Trump, he doesn’t “really have a great deal of confidence in polls,” according to the news agency.
Calls to leave the decision regarding legalization up to the voters were also rebuffed by Delleney and Senate Majority Leader Massey, who noted that the state government in South Carolina is a republic, not a democracy. Delleney reportedly said the people of the state hire legislators to make those decisions and that’s what they should do.