Prominent State Representative Still Pushing for Legal South Carolina Sports Betting

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Mar 21, 2023 08:00 PM
Prominent State Representative Still Pushing for Legal South Carolina Sports Betting

As optimism surrounding the immediate future of sports betting in South Carolina continues to wane, one prominent state lawmaker isn't giving up hope. That lawmaker? J. Todd Rutherford. He is the Minority House Leader for The Palmetto State, as well as the strongest advocate for South Carolina sports betting among all officials.

Though Rutherford's repeated pushes to legalize sports betting in South Carolina have yet to be successful, he has been instrumental in keeping the matter at the forefront of the state's discussion. This past December, for instance, he introduced a sports betting bill that remains up for consideration during the 2023 legislature sessions.

Of course, many don't believe this initiative has much of a chance. In fact, it would be a genuine surprise if it passes. Time and again, experts have cited a much longer timeline. For now, the legalization of South Carolina sports betting isn't expected before 2025. And yet, Rutherford continues to push the agenda—especially as the neighboring North Carolina joins the United States' legal betting ranks.

The question is: Will Rutherford be successful? Or is South Carolina sports betting still a ways off?

J. Todd Rutherford's Sports Betting Argument is Starting to Resonate in South Carolina

Whenever he's asked about the future of sports betting in South Carolina, Rep. Rutherford does anything but mince words. And with each response, he reiterates two main points: The importance of choice, and the fact that sports betting already takes place inside The Palmetto State. Consider this excerpt from a recent article at ABC News 15 in South Carolina:

“'What we have to do in South Carolina is legalize it and allow people to have the freedom to participate in the process and not be locked out simply because of where they live,' said Rutherford. Rutherford said that we are missing out on a ton of tax revenue that would go into the state’s general fund to be spent on things like education and economic development."

Rutherford's logic is unimpeachable. South Carolinians partake in sports gambling even though the state hasn't legalized it. Not only are they traveling to surrounding states, but there are plenty of sites from our reviews of the top online sportsbooks that allow customers to set up an account no matter where they live. And as Rutherford has repeatedly alluded to, that money is being spent regardless of what South Carolina laws stipulate. Why shouldn't the state find a way to capitalize on that business?

Skeptics may not think a constitutional amendment that legalizes sports betting is worth the trouble. South Carolina is among the smaller markets in the USA, with an estimated population of 5.3 million people. But similarly sized states have already legalized sports betting, and they are making plenty of money after doing it.

Take sports betting in Louisiana. It was legalized back in June 2021, a little over 18 months ago. Since then, Louisiana has made over $38 million in tax revenue, according to Legal Sports Report. And that's despite having an estimated population (4.7 million) noticeably smaller than the numbers in South Carolina. This isn't to say South Carolina's market will mirror The Big Easy. The former doesn't have any pro sports teams. But they do have a handful of collegiate powerhouses that would draw in bettors, and they are also close enough to more major markets (like North Carolina) that will reel in fans of pro sports leagues.

What Does The Latest South Carolina Sports Betting Bill Look Like?

Rutherford sponsored his latest South Carolina sports betting bill to close out 2022. Generally speaking, it was more of a loose outline. It did not mention rules on college sports or provide an exact tax rate that would be assessed to sportsbooks.

However, this was probably by design. The goal of his bill was likely to gauge interest and start discussions, with the hope that more specific terms could be negotiated as needed. This way, changes could be implemented that would garner the largest amount of support possible.

Even without the specifics hammered out, the framework of this sports betting bill was telltale. It didn't seek to legalize only in-person wagering, which is what other states have done—including North Carolina. Rutherford's proposal sought to legalize online sports betting in South Carolina, as well. 

This comes as little surprise. Mobile betting is more accessible, and in more rural states without dense pro sports markets, it's more profitable to offer remote options than insist people visit brick-and-mortar sportsbooks that may still require extensive travel.

South Carolina Sports Betting Still Needs to Generate More Support

While Rutherford is not alone in his support of legalizing South Carolina sports betting, his initiative continues to work from a deficit.

As we already mentioned, Rutherford is the Minority Leader for the South Carolina House of Representatives. His bill has generated its fair share of traction among fellow Democrats. But the House and Senate are still controlled by Republicans, and they aren't as open to amending the state's constitution to legalize sports gambling.

Complicated still, Governor Henry McMaster remains one of the biggest opponents against South Carolina sports betting. He's not afraid to speak out on it, either. McMaster ran his entire 2022 re-election campaign on a platform that opposed sports betting in South Carolina. And guess what? He won.

Does this mean South Carolina residents feel the same? Not necessarily. The only way to know for sure is to put this sports betting bill on the next general election ballot. But the South Carolina House and Senate must first vote to pass the initiative first. And with 2023 legislative sessions slated to end around May 26, that doesn't feel especially likely—which means Rutherford's push to legalize sports betting will have to sustain for another year, at the very least.

Take a look at this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can find one that works for all of your sports betting needs:

Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

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