The current law came to the attention of many residents and members of the state legislature in South Carolina when a court case resulted in the guilt of five poker players for their participation in a home poker game. Despite the judge’s acknowledgement that poker was skill-based and the men were not technically “gambling,” he found them guilty based on the reigning 1802 state law that outlaws “any game with cards or dice.” That spurred many to realize that it might be time for a new gaming law.
Shortly after the court case was in the books and preparing for appeal, South Carolina Senator Glenn McConnell, a Republican from Charleston, introduced two bills in March of 2009 to legalize home poker games and fundraising gaming events. The lack of current status of the 1802 law that technically outlawed not only poker but most board games like Monopoly as well prompted the move.
McConnell said, “The law is antiquated. It was written in another time, and government has no business micromanaging people’s lives and the choice them make on the games that entertain them. Under the law, it’s illegal to play Monopoly and card games at your kitchen table… It’s just as illegal to do that as it is to play a friendly game of poker in the house.”
The first bill (535) called for poker games to be legalized in private residences provided no house odds or bank are in place, and the second (560) dictated that charity events be allowed to use all casino-type games and raffles for the benefit of fundraisers for non-profit organizations, religious groups, or fraternal organizations. After their introductions, they moved to the Judiciary Committee for consideration while McConnell called for two public hearings in late March to bring awareness to the issue and garner support for the bills.
By mid-March, progress was made. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the poker bill by a vote of 12-8, pushing the legislation forward to the Senate floor. However, with only a few days left in the current session, it seems less than likely that a vote would happen prior to the summer break. But despite the expected delay, the probability that the bills will be passed during the state legislature’s next session is high.
While the charity gaming bill seems likely to pass as well, it has been the poker bill attracting the most attention and outward support. Democratic Senator Brad Hutto realizes the importance of updating the law. With regard to poker players, he noted, “Right now, they’re classified as criminals.”
Senator Jake Knotts agreed. “We don’t want our police officers busting down people’s doors, of family and friends who are playing rummy or nickel poker or strip poker. This is to separate the criminal gambler from a person who just wants to play cards with some friends.”
Though it is not clear who the “criminal gambler” might be in Knotts’ statement, it is apparent that many of the state’s legislators see the irrelevance of the 1802 law that still stands and the subsequent need for its repeal by virtue of a new law. Utilizing the criminal justice system for recreational poker players is a waste of time and resources and could just as well endanger a legislator’s grandfather as any other resident. South Carolina’s lawmakers seem to be recognizing this and will press forward with the hopeful passage of McConnell’s bills in 2009.