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Overview Of Poker Law In South Carolina

South Carolina is one of the most conservative states in the United States when it comes to its appetite, or lack of appetite actually, for permitting real money poker and gambling.  This is in spite of more and more states opening their minds more to gambling and poker.

Some states are coming to realize that they are missing out on a lot of the profit by remaining obstinate, while their residents simply take their gambling business to either Indian casinos in the state or other casinos in neighboring states.

South Carolina doesn’t seem to be too troubled by any of this though, as at least at the official level, they remain for the most part opposed to gambling, particularly casino gambling and poker, which tend to be seen as less socially acceptable than some other forms.

Political climates do change though, so it’s not that we won’t ever see an evolution of gambling in South Carolina that moves toward being more progressive over the years, as evidenced by the fact that they do have a state lottery here now, although it didn’t happen until 2002, and they christened it the South Carolina Education Lottery to give it a name they found more palatable.

This lottery is the only legal form of gambling available in South Carolina right now, receiving an exemption from the blanket anti gambling law on the books here, in the interest of adding money to the state coffers.  Lotteries are the most socially acceptable form of gambling today, for whatever reason, probably due to just how massively popular they are, so it was easier for them to turn a blind eye to their so called morals and take the money, in this case anyway.

Just how conservative is South Carolina?  Well, there’s still a law on the books that make it illegal to play any game on Sunday, for money or otherwise, so the cops can bust down your door and arrest your family for playing Monopoly on Sunday if they wish – although this is rarely enforced.

As far as gambling goes, playing games for money, Title 16, Chapter 19, Section 40 of the South Carolina Code of Laws, entitled “Unlawful Games and Betting,” is very specific.  The law could have simply read that no form of gambling is permitted while playing any game, anywhere in the state, but they decided to not leave that to chance or interpretation.

So the law starts out by setting out the places you can’t gamble, which ends up describing a number of enclosed locations, as well as a number of open locations, including streets, highways, fields, open woods, etc.  This section isn’t particularly well written by the way but it is clear that the intention is to prohibit gambling everywhere, even though the descriptions are narrower than they should have been.

There is also a list of prohibited games that qualify as gambling, including some games like faro bank that give away the fact that this was written a long time ago, but again, the intent is clear, to bar betting on games.

As far as its application to poker is concerned, the list does include betting on any game played with cards, so poker is clearly included and prohibited.

In spite of the law, there is a fair bit of underground gambling that goes on in the state, and in some cases the police are known to look away.   For example, a Greenville man who was charged with running a gambling operation claimed that the police knew about it for 23 years and just told him to keep it off the beaten path.

From time to time though, people do get busted for running gambling here, so the law here isn’t just given lip service or kept on the books so not to stir up public debate or show that the state may be getting soft towards gambling.

Home Poker Games in South Carolina

Running a home poker game, or even playing in one, runs the risk of both a fine and jail time.  This isn’t to say that home poker games don’t exist here, and it would be naïve to think otherwise, but they are clearly against the law.

Is It Legal To Play Online Poker In South Carolina?

It is illegal to bet on games that are played with a deck of cards, so at first glance, it might seem obvious that playing online poker in South Carolina is clearly illegal.  It probably is, but the gambling laws here were written long ago, long before the internet, and it might be argued that online poker is not played with a deck of cards per se.

This may be a bit of a stretch but if cards are to be understood as a physical deck of cards, and for instance during the trial such evidence would be requested, well no cards could be produced, since the game is actually played with a computer instead, even though there may be pictures of cards involved, but not actual cards.

This very likely would not save someone from being charged and convicted though, as the intent of the law is to ban gambling, and gambling on a computer is still gambling, and those are still pictures of cards, in a game that does require hands of cards to be dealt and bets placed upon such hands.

The interesting part of this is that there isn’t any rush to update these laws to pertain to online gambling specifically, and given the pains that the authors of the law took to describe popular gambling games of the day, you would think that they could revise it to encompass online gambling if they wished.

Only one state so far has even done that, and even there, the truth is that laws against online gambling are virtually unenforceable, due to the private nature in which these games are played, at home on one’s computer or on one’s mobile device.

Since people don’t gather to play these games in a physical location, there is no game to bust up, and authorities have enough trouble busting up physical gambling games.   Virtual ones are pretty much impossible to bust, even with the strongest of commitments from governments to do so.

So is playing online poker illegal in South Carolina?  Almost certainly.  Does it matter?  Well no, especially given that there has not been a single conviction in any state in the country for gambling online, poker or otherwise.  It’s just too difficult of a law to enforce is what it comes down to.

Live Poker Options In South Carolina

South Carolina, being one of the most anti-gambling states in the country, does not permit gambling other than the lottery, and there are no live gambling options here, including any on Indian land.

However, South Carolina does have casino cruises.  The SunCruz Myrtle Beach used to offer poker, although that cruise was shut down recently, leaving no live poker options at all in the state or setting sail from the state for a time.

The Big M casino cruise has picked up the slack now though, and one of their two casino cruise boats, boat 1, now offers $2/$5 no limit Texas Holdem with buy ins from $200-$500.  So South Carolina live poker is back, although you do have to go out to sea to play it.

The Future of Online Poker in South Carolina

South Carolina remains in the dark ages as far as their gambling laws go.  They at least have a lottery now, and not all states do, although almost all of them do, but South Carolina is no longer bringing up the rear and has at least shown a little open mindedness towards gambling now.

This is a so called Bible Belt state, the heart of the Bible Belt really, and there are plenty of people who think that they have the prerogative to tell other people how they should be entertaining themselves, and playing poker for money tends not to be something they approve of.

South Carolina has a long way to do indeed to create the political climate to legalize and regulate casino gambling and poker, this is a long way from Nevada for sure, in more ways than one.

In any case, as far as online poker goes, what really matters is whether or not offshore poker rooms are willing to offer players in a certain state access to their poker rooms, and the good news is that South Carolina online poker players are warmly welcomed at several good online poker sites.  So state politicians may be way behind the times here, but it doesn’t really matter much.