Editorial | End the Indecision on Gambling

January 14, 2013 

South Carolina lawmakers seeking to quash the rebirth of video gambling in the state should pay close attention to efforts across the border to the north.

North Carolina’s legislature banned video sweepstakes machines – a thinly disguised version of video poker or other games – in 2010. An appellate court ruling that year declared the law unconstitutional, but the state’s Supreme Court disagreed in December and the ban went into effect Jan. 3, just a couple of weeks ago.

A statewide ban by the legislature coupled with a ruling by the top court in the state? That’ll mean curtains for the sweepstakes business in North Carolina, right? Not even close.

Like Hercules’ battle with the hydra, state lawmakers who thought they had chopped off the industry’s head have been dismayed to see it only quickly grow back.

Just days after the ban went into effect, sweepstakes cafes across the state were back in business after making minor tweaks to the software behind the games. Some operators were even expanding, opening cafes in new locations. The changes, which reveal whether players have won anything before hands are played instead of after, are enough to skirt the ban, sweepstakes operators and owners believe. And so far, N.C. law enforcement seems to be back in a gray area, trying to determine exactly what’s allowed and meanwhile letting the cafes reopen and turn the flashing lights back on in what’s estimated to be a $2 billion industry across the state.

Gambling supporters in South Carolina will see this as proof that there will always be some way to work around a ban and we might as well regulate the industry and profit from it. Gambling opponents will point to it as evidence that there should be absolutely no wiggle room left in the law that S.C. legislators are considering.

We’d prefer the latter, but honestly either outcome would be preferable to the no man’s land that South Carolina is currently in, where these gambling parlors are allowed in some counties and cities but not others and enforcement of laws is based more on the personal interpretation of state laws by individual magistrates and solicitors than by any statewide consensus.

South Carolina legislators began debating the industry this past week, though supporters have already begun angling for delays in hopes of putting off any real change.

Should we allow a return to gambling, with all the baggage it brings with it? Or should we decide that it’s simply not a practice conducive to a civil society and ban it altogether? It’s a debate worth having, but only if we eventually come to a decision as a state. If we’re going to open this can of worms, let’s make it worth it.

This is hardly the first time this has come up. Similar measures regarding sweepstakes parlors died on the vine last year because of objections and delaying tactics from gambling supporters. It shouldn’t happen again. We need some clarity, legislators. Bring it to a vote. Get us a decision and let us move forward.

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