COLUMBIA, S.C. —One South Carolina lawmaker says there’s a way to raise enough money to fix state roads without raising the gas tax: legalize gambling. Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, has prefiled a bill in the House that would put a constitutional amendment question on the 2018 ballot asking voters whether they want to allow casinos and betting on horse racing and pro sports, with the money going to state road needs.
“Every estimate I’ve seen ranks from the hundreds of millions of dollars to the billions of dollars,” he says about how much legalized gambling would bring in for roads.
He thinks casino operators would love to set up on the South Carolina coast. “We could do it off of the beach. It wouldn’t have to be at Myrtle Beach proper, wouldn’t increase traffic, wouldn’t increase crime, and it’d be in counties that wanted it, that needed it, and it could benefit the entire state,” he says.
The state Democratic Party put an advisory referendum question on its primary ballot in 2014, asking Democratic voters whether they favored legalizing gambling as a way to pay for roads. In that vote, 81 percent said yes.
But that was just an advisory referendum. Rep. Rutherford filed a similar bill last year and it didn’t go anywhere. He’s hoping the need to find money for roads, and the fact that Republicans just elected casino owner Donald Trump as president, will change the dynamic. “He is well tied-in to gambling. The Republicans are now well tied-in to it all the way to the top. What is wrong with South Carolina benefiting from that tie-in to gambling profits?
“The Upstate historically is always going to have a problem with gambling interests, but they’re also the closest to Cherokee casinos, which does very well and does very well from people that leave the Upstate,” he says.
Columbia voter Harriett Davis says, “Yes, I’m in favor of raising money for the roads, although as an animal protectionist I would have to find out more about the regulation of the animals involved,” in the horse racing.
James Abrams of Columbia says of the idea, “Give it some more thought, but that’s plausible.”
But Kathy Tucker of Columbia says, “Having the gambling here, then anything could happen and go wrong and stuff, so I’m against gambling anyway.”
Palmetto Family Council president and CEO Oran Smith says, “The legislation in question would tear down our social infrastructure in the name of our physical infrastructure. This is not sound policy or a good trade for the families of South Carolina. Gambling is already easily accessible at casinos in the mountains, boats at the beach and on every corner through our South Carolina Education Lottery. There are more stable and ethical sources of dedicated funds for our roads and bridges. “