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SC Social Cons Plan Pushback Against Expanded Gaming

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BUT SOME PLANS WOULD BE MORE VIGOROUSLY OPPOSED THAN OTHERS …

Social conservatives in South Carolina plan on pushing back against recent momentum in support of expanded legal gaming in the Palmetto State.

To an extent …

For those of you who didn’t know it, March is “Problem Gambling Awareness Month,” according to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG).

The theme of this year’s event is “Have the Conversation” (#HaveTheConvo) – a way of encouraging friends and family members of suspected gambling addicts to confront their loved ones with concerns in the hopes problems can be addressed before they get out of hand.

Are social conservatives serious about waging this battle, though?  Yes … and no.

According to sources tracking the ongoing debate over this issue at the S.C. State House, not all Bible Thumpers in the omnipotent S.C. General Assembly are ready to launch a full-blown crusade against the sinful scourge of private sector gaming.

In fact, we spoke to several social conservative lawmakers who told us they do not plan to “actively oppose” legislation that would permit limited casino gaming on the Palmetto State’s Grand Strand.

“It’s sin versus stewardship – and I plan on being a good steward,” one of these lawmakers told us. “I’m not gonna dance on my desk with pom-poms (in support of a gaming bill), but I’m not going to block it either – we need the money.”

Actually they don’t need the money … what they need to do is focus on core functions of government.  Spending and borrowing at the state level is out of control, last time we checked.

But that’s another debate …

This one is about whether South Carolina should allow gaming or not … and if so, which forms of it.

According to the lawmaker, who hails from the Palmetto Upstate, if gambling is confined to casinos located along the coastal region of the state – and those who visit those casinos are predominantly tourists – then opposition from social conservatives is likely to be muted compared to a broader, blanket gambling legalization bill.

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“I think a lot of the issue with video poker is that it was in our midst and hurting our neighbors,” the lawmaker told us.

That’s an interesting point …

To be clear: This website supports – and has consistently supported – the legalization of all forms of gambling in South Carolina.  That includes coastal casinos, which we have previously argued would be a boon to the state’s tourism economy.

In fact we endorsed proposals to legalize them five years ago.

“For too long in this state, we have permitted government-run bureaucracies and anti-competitive statutes to compound a climate of failure,” we wrote at the time.  “Now we must figure out a way to let private sector opportunities and pro-growth reforms create a climate of prosperity.”

Indeed.  And make no mistake: South Carolina’s coastal tourism economy must diversify – and fast – or risk losing what’s left of its competitive advantages.

Our support for legalized gambling also includes video poker – which has been banned in the Palmetto State since 2000 but remains a major undercover industry.

Our guess is lawmakers won’t be moving to legalize it anytime soon, although given the lax enforcement at the state level – there’s an argument to be made that it’s already quasi-legal.

Hard core gambling opponents argue that any legalization will be bad for the state – citing elevated bankruptcies, absenteeism and higher health care costs.

Are they correct?  Data regarding the adverse economic impacts of problem and pathological gamblers was used extensively by social conservatives two decades ago during the debate over the S.C. “Education” Lottery – a.k.a. state government’s monopoly on gambling.

However these figures failed to account for an exclusively regional presence of just one type of gaming – a type in which the majority of players were likely to be visitors from other states.  More importantly, anti-gambling forces were united at the time – not splintered as they are today.

Where is the public on the issue?  According to a report in last weekend’s editions of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper, 68 percent of South Carolinians support casinos on the coast – if the state’s share of the haul is dedicated to improving roads and bridges.  Only 30 percent opposed such a proposal.

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