COLUMBIA — Legislation that would allow charities in the state to hold raffles would expire in five years, and players in casino night raffles couldn’t win cash under proposals that have won state Senate approval.
The changes came as senators moved to tighten the legislation after questions were raised about the impact of the bills and whether they could spur professional gambling.
Debate will resume next week.
Sen. David Thomas, a Fountain Inn Republican, took to the floor to voice his worries that the legislation could cause Las Vegas-style casinos to pop up around the state under the guise of helping charities. Thomas also argued the legislation could threaten the state’s “social fabric,” much as he said video poker did in the 1990s.
But others, including Sen. Brad Hutto, said Thomas’ fears were unfounded. They said the casino nights provision of the raffles law is designed only to allow players to win raffle tickets, not cash prizes, though cash could be used as a raffle prize.
“Nobody goes and plays blackjack and wins a chip that is convertible to anything other than a drawing,” Hutto said. “That’s why nobody is going to come night after night because you have no chance to win anything.”
Thomas said that in Japan players can win tickets that they can then exchange for cash with an outside organization or vendor.
“This isn’t Japan, Dorothy,” Hutto quipped. “This is only intended to allow raffles. The odds for winning are horrible so the people who want to bet aren’t going to come to casino nights. They’re coming to give money to the charity that’s holding the event.”
Thomas, however, said the legislation contains loopholes that could be exploited by professional gambling interests that could turn Myrtle Beach from a family fun spot to a gambling mecca.
Some argued that the problem is partly in the term “casino nights,” while others want to simply slice the activity, which Sen. Larry Martin, a Pickens Republican, said is practiced in Pickens County, from the bill.
An amendment by Sen. Wes Hayes, a Rock Hill Republican, to remove casino nights from the legislation was carried over, as was a proposal to place prize caps on the raffles and limits on the ticket prices of $100.
The Senate approved by a vote of 32-2 a sunset amendment by Martin so that any law passed would expire in five years unless reauthorized by the Legislature.
“That would be the safety valve of the bill,” said Martin, who said the time would allow the law to be tested and to see if any lawsuits were heard by the courts.
Another amendment by Sen. Shane Massey, an Edgefield Republican, makes it clear that players in casino nights cannot win cash prizes and their only winnings from the games such as blackjack and a roulette wheel would be raffle tickets.
More than 100 proposed amendments have been filed on the legislation, which includes allowing the state’s voters to decide if they want to legalize charitable raffles so the state’s Constitution can be amended.