Although South Carolina doesn’t have a considerable land mass, ranked 40th largest state in the US, due its warm climate and oceanside locality, the state has drawn an abundant population of 4,774,839 (est.2013), giving it the 24th highest populace in the nation. An eclectically spread agricultural and industrial state, South Carolina’s economy is as diverse as its landscape, but of all the resources that contribute to the local government’s tax coffers, casino gambling is not among them. Situated in the heart of the Bible Belt, that should come as no surprise.
There are an ample number of online poker players residing in South Carolina, but like most Bible Belt states, gambling is heavily frowned upon by the majority of voters, and consequently by public officials. In fact, authorities in the Palmetto State collaborated with the federal government in the Black Friday escapades to snag $2.1 million ($707k of which Greenville County, SC got to keep) from payment processors accused of assisting in illegal online poker. The players themselves were not targeted, but home poker players have been charged with illegal gambling in the past, thus the threat of being arrested for playing online poker in South Carolina can be a major deterrent.
What this article aims to determine is whether or not online poker is truly illegal in South Carolina. We’ll examine the current land-based gambling industry in the state, followed by the relative laws and statutes as they may relate to internet betting.
Land-based Gambling in South Carolina
All forms of gambling were first prohibited in the state in 1802. Nearly two centuries later, in the early 1990’s, video poker machines started popping up all over the state. They were deemed legal because their design and payouts were able to circumvent the current laws against gambling. Local religious organizations began to complain, and by 2000 a video poker ban was adopted, resulting in 33,000 machines being seized by authorities. That same year, legislation was adopted to create a new state lottery to benefit education, which began selling tickets in 2002.
The public felt that casino cruise ships should be shut down as well, but they started operating in 1998, prior to the video poker ban, and because the gambling activities were occurring over federal waters, it was out of South Carolina’s jurisdiction to stop them. Then in 2006, local tribes fought for their right to open Native American casinos per the IGRA, but the Supreme Court ruled against it.
During this time, a group of five men were arrested and charged with illegal gambling for participating in a home poker game. They were found guilty, but in 2009 the courts overturned their convictions on the grounds that poker was a game of skill, not chance. Another three years went by before SC Supreme Court ruled that home poker games were, in fact, illegal, and that those five men should not have been acquitted.
Deciphering the Laws of South Carolina as they relate to Online Poker
Title 16, Chapter 19 of the South Carolina Code of Laws deals with Crimes and Offenses. We’ll begin our search of the gambling related laws as they may pertain to online poker.
|Section||Text||Meaning (in re online poker)|
|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…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.
|To play poker in a house where anything of value is being wagered is illegal and punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or $100 fine. We must assume that playing online would also fall into that category.
To be the keeper of the house (i.e. owner or primary tenant) could be punishable by up to 12 months in jail and/or up to $2,000 fine, but this is more likely applicable if said keeper is inviting others to play, rather than being the sole player of the game.
|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.||If caught playing poker in your own house on a Sunday, you could be fined $50.|
|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.||On top of the penalties listed above, a player convicted of illegal gambling must forfeit all winnings to the State.|
Is Online Poker Illegal in South Carolina?
Yes. There are no explicit definitions of gambling or games of chance in the South Carolina Code of Laws, thus we can only conclude from the statutes above that, by using cards and involving wagers, poker is considered an illegal gambling activity. Playing poker in one’s home is also illegal. Therefore, due to the loose verbiage of the law, playing online poker for real money on a computer in your own home would be unlawful as well. Playing on a mobile device would also be illegal since any ‘house’, ‘public place’ or ‘open place’ is among the list of areas defined.
Is South Carolina working to legalize Online Poker?
No. There is no indication that lawmakers have any interest in legalizing and regulating online poker, or any other form of gambling currently outlawed in the state. Considering the lengths authorities in the Palmetto State went to in helping federal agents reel in $2.1 million from payment processors in relation to Black Friday, and how proudly they extolled that victory on the very day of the 5th anniversary of the UIGEA’s passage, the chances South Carolina will legalize any form of online gambling is about as likely as Weird Al Yankovic headlining the next Super Bowl halftime show. Even the very first Q&A on the FAQ page of the South Carolina Lottery addresses the term “online game” by scoffing at the idea that players can purchase tickets over the internet.
Online Poker Players from South Carolina
The laws in South Carolina don’t exactly tempt online poker players to reveal their true identity, but some of the state’s known players include Jake “7DeLuX” / “The2Kid2” Wilkins, Jade “GayGambla” Lane, Cary “JakobsLadder” / “agentcooper72” Pall and David “thirstyboots” Berndt.
Land-Based Card Rooms in South Carolina
Unfortunately, there are no land-based casinos in South Carolina. The only gambling options come by way of water. There are two casino cruise ships that leave Little River, SC on a daily basis, but only one that provides live poker action – SunCruz Aquasino.
Big M Gambling Boat (Casino Cruise Ship)
Location: Little River, SC
Poker Room: No
SunCruz Aquasino (Casino Cruise Ship)
Location: Little River, SC
Poker Room: Yes