Can South Carolina sports betting sway the state's into making a major change during the 2022 November elections? Joe Cunningham sure hopes so.
A former U.S. Representative for the state of South Carolina, Cunningham is running as the Democratic candidate for governor against incumbent Republican Henry McMaster. Many polling experts used to consider this race a formality. South Carolina has historically almost always favored the Republican party and conservative officials during major elections. Initial projects had McMaster winning this head-to-head in a landside.
Over the past year or so, though, the tide has started to shift. And while South Carolina has not evolved into an ultra-liberal bastion prepared to vote blue on everything, the turnout at the polling stations has shown a willingness to shake things up at the local levels.
Cunningham is now banking on that gradual transition to become meteoric. Conventional wisdom suggests a candidate in his position should run on a moderate to faux-conservative platform. But he has thrown that book out the window and leaned all the way into more progressive views. His campaign has expressed support for legal marijuana, abortion and sports betting in South Carolina.
This position was reiterated by Cunningham at a recent debate between him and McMaster on October 26. The question is: Will running on a platform that openly and forcefully supports South Carolina sports betting be successful?
South Carolina Voters Could be Trending Toward Democratic Candidates
Traditionalists will insist there's no way the historically red South Carolina will go for a Democratic governor candidate like Joe Cunningham. But the groundwork for such a massive transformation may have already been laid.
Consider this excerpt from a recent article by Alexx Altman-Devilbiss at ABC 15 News in South Carolina: "As South Carolina hasn’t put a Democrat in the Governor’s position in nearly a quarter-century, the former congressman is looking for another stunning upset four years after flipping the 1st District blue for a single term by appealing to voters’ desire for change. That new direction includes his proposals to fully legalize marijuana and enact sports betting."
Flipping the 1st District for a single term is a pretty monstrous development by South Carolina's standards. It also helps that informal polls conducted by multiple local news outlets suggest a majority of South Carolina voters either support or remain undecided on the subject of sports betting. The same also goes for the legalization of marijuana, which would also seem to help Cunningham's case.
Recent election polls reflect as much. According to FiveThirtyEight, Joe Cunningham has an approval rate hovering somewhere between 42 percent and 44 percent as we close out the month of October. That still puts him in the minority, but it's also a huge increase over just a few months ago. These polls also can't account for people who may opt for a write-in option on the ballot. Those voters can help sway the election in Cunningham's favor if they were initially considered Keith McMaster supporters.
What Happens to South Carolina Sports Betting if Keith McMaster is Re-Elected?
A win for Keith McMaster in November can be seen as bad news for sports bettors. McMaster is a known opponent of South Carolina sports betting—in addition to legal abortion and marijuana use. If he's re-elected, it's unlikely South Carolina legalizes sports betting over the next few years.
Granted, McMaster can always change his stance. But we personally wouldn't bet on it.
A study conducted by the University of South Carolina found "evidence mobile sports gaming can increase the likelihood of problem gambling as opposed to betting at a retail casino." This could mean that McMaster takes steps to legalize on-site betting, but he has instead interoperated the findings as cause for an all-out ban.
Fortunately, if an all-out ban remains in place, residents of South Carolina are not without options. Many neighboring states around them offer legal sports betting, and a majority of the sites from our reviews of the top online sportsbooks will let you sign up for and service accounts from anywhere in the United States. Of course, if Joe Cunningham wins his bid for governor, this won't be an issue.
To which we ask...
Can Joe Cunningham Actually Beat Out Keith McMaster?
The prevailing sentiment on this subject is still bleak. Most tend to believe Keith McMaster will win, even if only narrowly. He cemented his case in the eyes of many by overseeing one of the largest tax cuts in South Carolina history. He also gained plenty of additional support by re-opening the state's economy during the global pandemic when many others in the USA remained shut down.
But don't be too discouraged if you're a sports betting enthusiast. Joe Cunningham absolutely has a chance. See, his ascension in the polls has coincided with McMaster's open stance against abortion and marijuana use, which has led many to question whether he's too old to maintain his position. At 75, McMaster is on the older side even for conservative-leaning parties. Many believe that moderates and fringe voters might wind up favoring Cunningham and his progressive policies by virtue of his relatability. And if that happens, there's a real chance South Carolina legalizes sports betting by the end of 2023.
Does this matter? We can't be sure. We'll know in a few weeks time.
One thing, however, is almost certain: The future of South Carolina sports betting hinges on who wins the election for governor in November.
Take a look at this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can decide which one is best for all of your sports betting needs: