Two SC lawmakers push bills to allow horse race betting

A bipartisan duo wants to let South Carolinians place bets on horse races and use the money generated from the wagers to help the state’s equine industry.

State Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun, and state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, on Tuesday introduced legislation that would allow bets through mobile apps, joining 37 other states. Both served on a straight equine study committee that looked at the horse industry in South Carolina.

The equine industry has a $1.9 billion impact in South Carolina, and employs more than 28,000 people.

But those in the industry say it’s shrinking.

“This bill would really help push through so much needed funding for the state to try to bring back the industry, to try to bring back the people associated, all of the grooms and the riders and everybody else that goes along with the horses,” said Kate Dalton, a steeplechase trainer in Camden.

Most gambling, including sports betting, isn’t allowed in South Carolina, which only permits the lottery.

State leaders have long been resistant to legalizing sports betting of any kind. Years ago, the state got rid of video poker machines and opposed casino operations, which led the Catawba tribe to open a casino in North Carolina.

The state hasn’t considered sports betting legislation since the US Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a federal law that barred sports betting in most states.

Under the joint proposal, bettors would open an account with an approved operator, like a Fan Duel or Draft Kings, where they could deposit money. They could then use their cell phones to wager on races across the country. Money would be added to an account after winning a wager.

“It’s almost like a banking transaction,” Ott said. “It’s trackable, it’s transparent and we are able to keep our arms around it as a state.”

Only a handful of operators would be allowed to offer horse race betting, and they would be highly regulated by a state equine commission, Shealy said.

Ott said 10% of the profit wagered through a site, plus the license fees set by a commission for operators would go to the state to, for example, cover grants to help improve trails, for thoroughbred associations to offer incentives for trainers and help pay for equine studies programs at the state’s colleges and universities.

The state could stand to bring in $8 million to $14 million if the Legislature legalizes sports betting, according to an analysis done by the Racing Resource Group included in the equine study committee.

Despite gambling being illegal in the state, Shealy said people are still making online wagers in South Carolina by hiding their computers’ locations.

“I’m not saying lets open up a big horse race track and have live gambling,” Shealy said, “but people are already doing it and the state of South Carolina is just not getting money for it.”

Joseph Bustos is a state government and politics reporter at The State. He 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.
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