COLUMBIA, S.C. — A record 30 million Americans placed bets on Sunday night's big game, but South Carolinians were not among them as sports betting of any kind remains illegal. This legislative session, however, lawmakers are looking to change that.
Representative Todd Rutherford of Richland County has filed a bill that would legalize sports betting, horse racing, card and dice games, and electronic gaming devices.
"This is about the ability to do something that people are already doing and take advantage of that and let South Carolina benefit from that," Rutherford said.
Since 2018, 30 states have legalized sports betting. Neighboring states like North Carolina and Georgia are considering legislation that would legalize it.
For years, South Carolina Lawmakers like Rep. Rutherford and Senator Gerald Malloy have attempted to join those states, but failed.
Rutherford said he thinks this year is different due to bipartisan support and the increased popularity of online sports betting overall.
“You have major corporations, MGM, Caesars, that want sports betting to come. I think that's going to drive the needle and move the needle towards more progression and more freedom,” Rutherford said.
Along with more freedom would come more tax revenue. Supporters say legal betting would generate $40 million a year for the state.
The bill requires revenue be used for highway, road, and bridge maintenance, construction, and repair. Rutherford said he also plans on putting the money towards education.
"We've got to keep up," said Rutherford. "We've got to make sure that we are competitive."
Palmetto Family Council president Dave Wilson said he's concerned about a potential increase in gambling addictions throughout the state.
"What it actually does is it sets up the structure for doing all forms of gambling in South Carolina," Wilson said. "What we have to find out is whether or not the voters in South Carolina actually want to see that happening in our state."
Currently, the only form of legal betting in South Carolina is the lottery.
If Rutherford's bill passes, a referendum would be placed on ballots, leaving the final decision to legalize betting up to voters.
South Carolina resident Devon Gonzalez said if that were the case, he'd vote yes.
“I wouldn't go too crazy with it, maybe just a couple dollars here and there, but I’d definitely give it a try," Gonzalez said. He said he knows many people who are already betting "under the table,” so it makes sense to make it legal.
Senator Malloy also filed a similar bill in the Senate. Both bills are sitting in committee, waiting to be debated on the floor.
If both bills die this legislative session, they will have to be refiled next year.