Gambling bill controversy unfolding as dicey issue

A panel from the South Carolina Senate will conduct two public hearings on “social” gambling and charity raffles, beginning tonight in North Charleston. State law now prohibits people from playing card games, including poker, even at home.  It’s also illegal for churches and nonprofit groups to hold raffles or so-called “casino nights.”  Senate Pro Tem Glenn McConnell has authored the bills, which would update existing laws and create a constitutional amendment authorizing churches and charities to hold raffles.
McConnell says he believes proponents can build support across the state to make the General Assembly change a law which has been in place since the early 1800’s.
“What we’re attempting to do is not to open up the state to widespread organized gambling or gambling for profit,  but you ought to be able to buy raffle tickets from non-profits and charities.  You ought to be able to play a friendly game of poker in your home.  It shouldn’t be other people’s business as to what you do in your home, in a friendly game of poker.”
McConnell says it’s important to remember that the current law has been around since 1806.  “You have to separate the issues of for-profit gambling from the private rights of citizens.  And I see us as having blended too much social policy into our law.  And it has created some absurdities.”
In April 2006, a group of men were ticketed in Mount Pleasant for playing Texas Hold ’em poker.
The opposition is already very much aware of the legislation, including Greenville Republican Senator David Thomas, who asserts that this is the video poker and bingo hall issue all over again.
“It raises the issue of video poker that took us so long to get rid of.  They found all kinds of ways around the law.  There’s no safeguard that’s going to protect us from individuals that would misuse the allowances we have for non-profits.  They will take those organizations, misuse them, and the fines for violations are almost nothing.”
Tonight’s hearing is at North Charleston City Hall.  The second will be held in one week, March 30th, in the Greenville County Council chambers.  Both meetings start at 5:30pm. Charleston Senator Robert Ford will lead the hearings.