Lawmakers pushing to legalize betting on horse races in South Carolina

Published: Mar. 8, 2022 at 9:07 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 8, 2022 at 9:37 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A bipartisan group of state lawmakers are hoping to legalize betting on horse races in South Carolina.

The legislation — primarily sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Russell Ott, D – Calhoun, and in the Senate by Sen. Katrina Shealy, R – Lexington — was introduced Tuesday at the State House.

It would only allow for advance-deposit wagering, in which people place bets through an application on their phone and need to have money in their account beforehand.

The company through which bettors place their bets would be vetted and licensed by the state, Ott said, and under the legislation, the state would collect licensing fees and 10% of revenues from wagers.

“It’s trackable, it’s transparent, and we are able to keep our arms around it as a state,” Ott said, comparing it to a financial transaction with a bank instead of placing a bet with a bookie.

The money collected by the state would be distributed among people in the equine community, such as trainers and breeders, through a grant program.

While lawmakers on the Equine Industry Support Measures Study Committee report the equine industry has about a $2 billion impact in the state annually, they also say South Carolina is losing ground to other states where horse betting is legal.

Rep. Russell Ott, D – Calhoun, speaks during a news conference at the State House on March 8,...
Rep. Russell Ott, D – Calhoun, speaks during a news conference at the State House on March 8, 2022(Mary Green)

As currently proposed in South Carolina, those states distribute revenues from betting through the equine community, incentivizing those members to do their work in those states.

“This bill would really help push through some much-needed funding for the state, to try to bring back the industry, to bring back the people associated with it, the grooms and the riders,” Kate Dalton, a steeplechase trainer from Camden said.

Ott said the bill would bring in a “substantial” amount of money without raising taxes.

“We’re not talking about opening casinos. We’re not talking about the different forms of brick-and-mortar or sports betting or bookies or even walking up to a teller at a horse race and placing a bet,” he said.

Other betting bills have been unsuccessful in the past at the State House, where restrictive laws have kept most forms of gambling illegal.

“I think we’ve got to get folks comfortable,” Ott said. “People talk all the time that gambling is already taking place in the state of South Carolina. You can walk into any gas station right now in South Carolina and buy a lottery card.”

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