Horse Racing Supporters in South Carolina Push for Legal Pari-Mutuel Betting
Horse racing enthusiasts in South Carolina are once again urging state lawmakers to legalize pari-mutuel betting on horse races as the legislature prepares to convene in January 2024.
South Carolina has some of the most stringent gambling laws in the country, with only lottery gaming and charity raffles being permitted. The state does not have commercial or tribal casinos, and sports betting, pari-mutuel wagering, and iGaming are all prohibited.
The last significant update to the state’s gaming laws occurred in 2000 when voters approved the South Carolina Education Lottery. With the upcoming 2023 Aiken Fall Steeplechase races drawing near, advocates are renewing their calls for the legalization of pari-mutuel betting in the Palmetto State.
The Aiken Fall Steeplechase is a highlight on the South Carolina horse racing calendar, and the lack of legal betting options has prompted frustration among horsemen. Frank Mullins, president of the Aiken Steeplechase Association, stressed that there is already significant wagering occurring in the state, but without regulation or financial benefits for the industry.
Pari-mutuel betting, which differs from fixed-odds sports betting, involves bettors wagering against each other rather than against the house. A small percentage of the total pool is taken by the pari-mutuel facilitators, with the remainder distributed equally among winning bets.
Earlier this year, State Rep. Russell Ott introduced House Bull 3514, a bill that would allow individuals aged 21 and older to place pari-mutuel bets on horse races via the internet, as well as in-person at licensed horse racetracks and events like the Aiken Steeplechase.
Ott’s bill gained the support of the House in April but stalled in the state Senate, where conservative members refused to consider the expansion of gaming. Governor Henry McMaster, along with other hardline Republicans, vehemently opposes gaming expansion and has pledged to veto any such legislation during his tenure, which extends until January 2027.
Supporters of the bill argue that legalizing pari-mutuel betting would provide crucial revenue for the horsemen. The proposed legislation suggests imposing a 10% tax on pari-mutuel wagering proceeds, with the funds allocated to a newly established Equine Industry Development Fund to promote and improve the equine industry in the state.
Despite the challenges and long odds of getting a betting bill passed, advocates continue to urge horsemen and sports fans to make their voices heard and keep the conversation going with lawmakers and the governor.
As the state’s legislative session approaches, the debate over legalizing pari-mutuel betting on horse races is expected to remain a topic of contention among both proponents and opponents of gambling expansion in South Carolina.