Thursday, April 2, 2009

McConnell Raises Stakes, Pitches New Comprehensive Gambling Bill

Posted by Greg Hambrick on Thu, Apr 2, 2009 at 2:34 PM

S.C. Senate leader Glenn McConnell is raising his bet on reforming the state’s stringent gaming laws. Last week, McConnell introduced a new bill (S. 628) that would completely rewrite the state’s lottery and gambling laws, as opposed to two minor changes he’d proposed a few weeks earlier.

Like the first bill he introduced, the new proposal would allow players to gamble at home as long as there’s no “house bank” where someone, usually the owner, gets a percentage of each bet or is paid to host the event. But the new bill also increases the penalties for violating the law — raising the penalty for gambling from $100 to $500, with fines increasing for subsequent offenses. Unlawful betting would mean a $1,000 fine for the first offense. That’s also currently $100. Penalties would continue to mean possible imprisonment of up to 30 days for the first offense, then increasing from there.

The bill would also address charitable raffles, which have slowly disappeared over the last few years in the state as charitable groups are threatened with fines and arrests.

At a North Charleston public hearing in March, Lions Club members from local chapters said they’d stopped operating raffles they’d once used to fund eye and ear exams for the needy. Goose Creek Lions Club Treasurer Tommy Bottoms said the group had lost $5,000 after ceasing a charitable raffle at the insistence of local law enforcement.

McConnell had said that legal potholes prevented legalizing raffles until S.C. voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2010. But the new bill proposed last week suggests that he’s found away around the delay, incorporating both gambling and raffles into one pot.

Under the legislation, tax-exempt groups would be allowed to hold charity raffles, including door prizes and other events, as long as no less than 90 percent of the money collected is used for charitable purposes. The bill does state that these charities can’t contract out the operation of the raffle and they can’t use electronic devices (so much for that Guitar Hero tournament). Cash prizes would be limited to $5,000 and events can only be held for up to six hours, twice a year. The bill was sent to the Judiciary Committee for consideration.

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