South Carolina is part of the ‘Bible Belt’ of the USA, which basically means its laws are extremely conservative when it comes to activities that highly religious folks are known to be opposed to. As you might imagine, gambling lands in a very high position on that list. As such, just about every form of gambling is illegal within the Palmetto State. The only forms of gambling explicitly authorized are the state-run lottery and charitable bingo games.
As for online poker players in South Carolina, the laws are so outdated it’s very unclear as to whether they are breaking any civil code by participating. Most forms of gambling are outlawed, but the verbose language of the South Carolina Code of Laws makes no mention of ‘online’ or ‘internet’ gambling of any type.
Legality of Online Poker in South Carolina
In order to come to some conclusion as to the legality of online poker in South Carolina, we must thoroughly inspect the laws of the state as they pertain to other forms of betting and gambling. We make every effort to determine if online poker is legal or not, but please understand that we are not professional lawyers and do not intend for the following review to be taken as legal advice. If you are looking for direct answers, please contact a licensed attorney who is familiar with South Carolina law.
South Carolina Code of Laws – Gambling
The following is a list of statutes found in the South Carolina Code of Laws that pertain to gambling and may pertain to online poker. Please note that we have eliminated some text to maintain relevancy, but have taken care not to change the meaning.
SECTION 16-19-40. Unlawful games and betting.
If any person shall play at any tavern, inn, store for the retailing of spirituous liquors or in any house used as a place of gaming, barn, kitchen, stable or other outhouse, street, highway, open wood, race field or open place at (a) any game with cards or dice… [or] (b) any gaming table… or shall bet on the sides or hands of such… upon being convicted thereof, before any magistrate, shall be imprisoned for a period of not over thirty days or fined not over one hundred dollars… for each and every offense.
SECTION 16-19-50. Keeping unlawful gaming tables.
Any person who shall set up, keep, or use any (a) gaming table… (b) roley-poley table, (c) table to play at rouge et noir, (d) faro bank (e) any other gaming table or bank… of any other kind for the purpose of gaming, or (f) any machine or device licensed [coin-op machine] and used for gambling purposes except the games of billiards, bowls, chess, draughts, and backgammon, upon being convicted thereof, upon indictment, shall forfeit a sum not exceeding five hundred dollars and not less than two hundred dollars.
SECTION 16-19-70. Keeping gaming tables open or playing games on the Sabbath.
Whoever shall keep or suffer to be kept any gaming table or permit any game or games to be played in his house on the Sabbath day, on conviction thereof before any court having jurisdiction, shall be fined in the sum of fifty dollars, to be sued for on behalf of, and to be recovered for the use of, the State.
SECTION 16-19-80. Forfeiture of wagers.
All and every sum or sums of money staked, betted or pending on the event of any such game or games as aforesaid are hereby declared to be forfeited.
SECTION 32-1-10. Suit by loser at cards or other game for recovery of losses.
Any person who shall at any time or sitting, by playing at cards, dice table or any other game whatsoever or by betting on the sides or hands of such as do play at any of the games aforesaid, lose to any person or persons so playing or betting, in the whole, the sum or value of fifty dollars and shall pay or deliver such sum or value or any part thereof shall be at liberty, within three months then next ensuing, to sue for and recover the money or goods so lost and paid or delivered or any part thereof from the respective winner or winners thereof, with costs of suit, by action to be prosecuted in any court of competent jurisdiction.
SECTION 32-1-60. Application of statutes to gambling activities not authorized by law.
Beginning on the effective date of this section, the provisions of Sections 32-1-10, 32-1-20, and 32-1-30 apply only to those gambling activities not authorized by law.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in South Carolina?
There is no mention of computers or the internet within the script of South Carolina’s gambling laws. Specific ways of playing poker are clearly prohibited, but let’s take a close at the first section 16-19-40. The first point of interest, if you follow the meaning closely enough, is that playing cards/gaming tables is illegal whether you bet anything of value or not. However, it lists many places where playing cards/gaming tables is illegal, and just about anywhere in the state, indoors or outdoors, is on that list, including a “house used as a place of gaming” and even a “kitchen”. But if the house is not used as a gaming place, and you’re not in the kitchen, there is no text that prohibits playing cards on a computer over the internet.
South Carolina neglects to define any of its terms in Title 16, Chapter 19. There is no definition for gambling, betting, gaming/gambling devices, etc, making it incredibly hard to determine just what is and is not illegal. It’s also important to note that section 32-1-10, wherein a player who loses ‘the sum of value of 50 dollars’ has the right to sue for their losses back. That applies only to “gambling activities not authorized by law”, thus if online poker is, in fact, legal in South Carolina, players would be exempt from suing for losses. Going back to Title 16, Chapter 19-70 makes it illegal to play any such games in your house on the Sabbath (Sunday). Lastly, Section 16-19-80 states that any and all money bet on any game mentioned in that section becomes forfeit.
Upon completing an in-depth examination of state laws, we generally impose our opinion, one way or another, as to whether online poker is legal in a state, but this time, we simply cannot give a direct response. On the one hand, yes, it should be legal to play online poker in one’s home, so long as you’re not in the kitchen and it’s not on a Sunday. But since betting at cards or gaming tables can result in forfeiture of all bets and/or winnings, it can’t exactly be legal to bet on poker, no matter how or where you do it.
Is South Carolina working to regulate online poker?
As we said in the beginning, South Carolina is part of the ‘Bible Belt’ that stretches across many of the states in south-eastern US. The only form of casino gambling you’ll find here is on one of two casino cruise ships departing from Little River, SC, and only then because the state had no jurisdiction to prevent it. It’s fervent, long-standing opposition to the expansion of gambling is a clear message that online poker regulation is the farthest thing from the minds of state law makers. It could be many, many years before the Palmetto State considers legalization.