South Carolina Casinos, Gambling, and Law Regulations: An Overview

Saying that South Carolina has a restrictive position towards gambling would be an understatement. After Utah, the Palmetto State has some of the most conservative gambling laws. There are no land-based casinos and poker is illegal, as well as social gambling. In fact, the only legal forms of gambling are the lottery, bingo, and horse racing.

Below is a breakdown of the legal status of gambling in South Carolina. We’ve also thrown in a few excerpts from South Carolina statutes to help people create a clear picture of the state’s gambling laws.

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Gambling Laws in South Carolina — The Law Overview

Back in the 1990s, South Carolina casinos were more popular than those in Nevada. The gambling landscape in the country flourished when video poker operators discovered a loophole in the South Carolina gambling laws. At one point, there were over 34,000 video poker machines across the state.

However, the South Carolina Supreme Court pulled the plug in the 2000s, outlawing almost all gambling activities. The industry was dismantled, putting thousands of people out of work. It never recovered up to this day, and the only form of legal gambling are two casino cruise ships, charity bingo, and the state lottery that was established in 2001.

Gambling-related matters are covered with the South Carolina Code of Laws, Section 16-19-40 et seq.

South Carolina Statutes

The South Carolina Code of Law defines gambling as  “… the risking of any money, credit, deposit, or other thing of value for gain.”

South Carolina lawmakers were keen on keeping both tribal and commercial gambling out of the state. The laws are so broad that all games involving cards or dice are illegal, no matter if any money is being wagered or not, especially on Sundays. Furthermore, gambling debts are non-enforceable, and even possessing a gaming table is deemed illegal under SC laws.

Here’s the key excerpt from the Statues: “Any person who shall at any time or sitting, by playing at cards, dice table or any other game whatsoever or by betting on the sides or hands of such as do play at any of the games aforesaid, lose to any person or persons so playing or betting,” (From Section 32-1-10)

This clearly shows that roulette, craps, blackjack, and other table games are illegal, no matter if you’re playing for real money, charitable donation, or only for fun.

Here’s the part about possessing gaming tables: “Any person who shall set up, keep, or use any (a) gaming table, commonly called A, B, C, or E, O, or any gaming table known or distinguished by any other letters or by any figures, (b) roley-poley table, (c) table to play at rouge et noir, (d) faro bank (e) any other gaming table or bank of the like kind or of any other kind for the purpose of gaming, or (f) any machine or device licensed pursuant to Section 12-21-2720 and used for gambling purposes except the games of billiards, bowls, chess, draughts, and backgammon, upon being convicted thereof, upon indictment, shall forfeit a sum not exceeding five hundred dollars and not less than two hundred dollars.”

South Carolina has especially stringent laws against playing games on Sunday, and we’re not just talking about gambling games. Basically, the state forbids any kind of game on the Sabbath. Even people who want to kill some time with solitaire or play a few rounds of chess with their pals will be breaking SC laws.

All this is mentioned in the following excerpt from section 16-19-70 of the Code of Law of SC: “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.”

What Forms of Gambling Are Allowed?

There are only a few forms of live gambling permitted in South Carolina. Casino gambling is almost non-existent. The only way South Carolina citizens can enjoy games that remotely resemble those of a real casino is to go on the Big “M” Casino Cruise that sails three miles into international waters.

South Carolina has a state lottery that sells tickets for lotto drawings, as well as scratch-off tickets. Current draw games include Pick-3, Pick-4, Palmetto Cash 5, and interstate lottery games like Powerball and Mega Millions.

Bingo is permitted only if it’s run by charitable organizations. The Catawba Tribe is allowed to host high-stakes bingo games in accordance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Non-profit organizations must possess a license from the SCDOR (South Carolina Department of Revenue). All the profits derived from bingo games are used to fund charitable activities.

Online gambling isn’t specifically mentioned in South Carolina gambling laws. However, the state’s criminal code is extremely difficult to interpret, so it’s hard to tell whether online gambling is illegal. SC law finds that a person is guilty of illegal gambling based on the following excerpt: “If any person shall play at a place of gaming or open place at (a) any game with cards or dice, (b) any gaming table, (c) any roley-poley table, (d) rouge et noir, (e) any faro bank, (f) any other table or bank of the same or the like kind under any denomination whatsoever, or (g) any machine or device licensed pursuant to Section 12-21-2720 and used for gambling purposes…”

For the first offense, the fine is 30 days in prison and/or a $100 fine (or less). A second offense is considered a felony. A person who commits such felony will be convicted of up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

From what we could tell, SC laws identify only a few forms of gambling, and online gambling is neither of them. Since the state hasn’t made it explicitly legal, placing real money wagers in South Carolina is illegal.

Where to Gamble in South Carolina

There is only one casino boat in operation in South Carolina — The Big M Casino, docked at Little River. In fact, the company owns two boats that alternate sailing days and times. This is the only type of gambling you will find for South Carolina casinos.

The Big “M” Casino Ship II

This 186-ft. Casino yacht sails 365 days a year from Little River offering SC residents one of the rare opportunities to experience Las Vegas-style gaming. Here, you’ll find over 400 slots and video poker machines with denominations ranging from $.01–$5. There are also 12 progressives that feature five-digit jackpots. As for the table section, all the classics are on board, including blackjack, craps, roulette, Let it Ride, and 3-Card Poker. The casino also runs all kinds of promotions, giving sailors a chance to win cash and prize giveaways every time they set off on a voyage.

FAQ

Is off-track betting legal in South Carolina?

Unfortunately, it isn’t.

Are daily fantasy sports legal in South Carolina?

South Carolina lawmakers never addressed the legality of daily fantasy sports. However, the biggest DFS sites like FanDuels have been operating here legally for years.

Can I buy lottery tickets online in South Carolina?

No, you are only allowed to buy lottery tickets from a licensed lottery retailer.

Can I go to jail for gambling online in South Carolina?

As far as we can tell from our analysis of South Carolina Statutes and the Criminal Code, you can’t, because there’s no law on the books that you would be breaking by betting online in the Palmetto State.

What is the minimum gambling age in South Carolina?

It’s 18 for lottery and charitable gambling and 21 for casino cruise(s).