It would be 2025 before sports betting is legalized in South Carolina under a proposed constitutional amendment filed last week.
That might seem too far in the future for South Carolinians who are waiting for a chance to bet legally in their home state. But it’s the soonest that legalization can happen, should lawmakers vote during the 2023 legislative session to put the question before voters in the next statewide general election.
South Carolina law requires that a proposed constitutional amendment be placed before statewide voters for approval during a general election. General elections in the state are held in even years. The next one will be held in Nov. 2024.
Should it receive voter approval, the amendment filed on Dec. 8 would then have to be ratified by state lawmakers in the following regular legislative session, in Jan. 2025.
It’s a situation that has been years in the making. South Carolina lawmakers have had the chance to put a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting (as well as horse race betting, and some types of casino gambling) to a statewide vote at least three times since sports betting regulation was turned over to the states in 2018. None of those proposals were voted out of committee.
But 2023 might be different. With North Carolina expected to legalize mobile sports betting next year after a near miss in recent months, lawmakers in Columbia might be more eager to get South Carolina in the regional and national market.
They may even decide to legalize sports betting without a constitutional amendment – something two lawmakers tried to do this year, although unsuccessfully.
Is a Constitutional Amendment Even Necessary?
South Carolina House Minority Leader J. Todd Rutherford is the lawmaker behind the latest proposed constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting. In fact, the Richland Democrat has been behind all three proposed sports betting amendments that have shown up in the House since 2018. All three have proposed legalizing betting on professional sports, horse race betting, and casino-style dice and card games in one form or another.
But Rutherford has also backed bills that would legalize mobile sports betting by statute only, or without voter approval. Earlier this year, he and State Rep. Bill Herbkersman of Bluffton cosponsored H 5277 to legalize eight to 12 mobile sports betting through the state lottery. That bill never got a vote in committee.
There has been some question of whether a constitutional amendment is even required to legalize sports betting in the Palmetto State, according to past news reports. An email sent by Gaming Today to Rutherford on Monday asking why he decided to file the proposed amendment had gone unanswered by Tuesday afternoon.
Legalizing sports betting outside a constitutional amendment would certainly allow South Carolina to launch sports betting sooner. Under H 5277, mobile sports betting was expected to be online sometime in 2023. But state lawmakers are unlikely to pass legal sports betting if there’s a chance it could be found unconstitutional.
What Could Be Next for South Carolina Sports Betting?
Ultimately, politics will determine what happens with legalization in South Carolina. It is possible that Rutherford or another lawmaker will again try to legalize sports betting without a constitutional amendment. There is still time to file new legislation for 2023. H 5277 wasn’t introduced until late April for consideration during the 2022 session that ended in May.
Rutherford seems intent on making legalization a reality in his home state, one way or another.
“This is about the ability to do something that people are already doing, and take advantage of that and let South Carolina benefit from that,” Rutherford was quoted as saying by WLTX-TV in Feb. 2022.
How fast, or slow, that needle moves still remains to be seen.
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