OTHER VIEWS: Deal with gambling law soon

  • Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2012 7:21 a.m.

The now-you’re-guilty, now-you’re-not, now-you’re-guilty-after-all tale of a 2006 poker game in a Mount Pleasant residence should give legislators something to deal with when they convene in January.

And they shouldn’t dodge the issue – not because it is as important as education, business recruitment and the state’s fiscal health, but specifically because it isn’t so important.

Since 2006, the case has consumed time and money as the courts considered the legality, or illegality, of the game. Those resources could better be spent in any number of places.

Further, local police authorities, in this case the Mount Pleasant Police Department, could employ their officers in pursuits much more useful to the security of residents.

In 2011, then-Sen. Glenn McConnell filed legislation to clarify the murky law, which dates to 1802.

It got as far as winning approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

His aim was to clearly define legal gambling: It must be in a private setting; provide no economic benefit other than personal winnings; give every player the same chance to win (except for the advantage a player has due to skill or luck); and involve people connected to each other by a “bona fide social relationship.” It cannot be advertised, open to strangers or available on the Internet.

Any amount of gambling is too much for some people.

And, indeed, any legislation would need to be very carefully worded to avoid another video poker saga. A poorly worded law allowed that harmful industry to take root, and it took years to undo the mistake.

But there is a big difference between a casino or a video poker parlor and a church raffle, which can also be considered illegal. And surely the majority of South Carolinians do not see church raffles that benefit their Sunday schools or outreach programs as threatening to those who participate.

McConnell, of course, is now Lt. Gov. McConnell, so the banner will need to be taken up by someone else in the legislative arena. It should be done with vigor and care. And dispatch. The kind of gambling that would bring crime and addiction to communities needs to be squelched.

But a friendly card game should be the least of our law enforcement’s concerns.

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