If you're wondering just how pivotal the issue of South Carolina sports betting has become, look no further than the upcoming November 2022 elections. Residents will be deciding, among other things, who will be the state's Governor moving forward—a choice that will not only impact legal sports betting in South Carolina, but one that might actually shape campaign platforms and the ultimate winner.
This is not an attempt to overstate the importance of online wagering. There is now legal sports betting throughout the United States. More than half of the USA, in fact, has greenlit sports wagering in some form. The pressure is mounting for others to follow suit. But there are also stark opponents to legal sports betting. And they, too, are applying pressure to local governments and officials, sometimes via expensive lobbyists, to try warding off proposals that would write gambling into law.
In many ways, then, legal sports betting could be an issue that determines a bunch of elections this fall. For instance, it will definitely play a pivotal role in California's 2022 primaries. But not every state is as open-ended on the issue. Some are predominantly in favor of legal sports betting (including California), and their results are considered a foregone conclusion. Other states are so against gambling that their policies aren't expected to change regardless of how the elections turn out.
South Carolina, however, is what we call an on-the-fence region. Their allegiances lie somewhere in the middle. And it is just this type of division that opens the door for sports betting to swing the race for the next governor of South Carolina.
Current Governor Doesn't Favor South Carolina Sports Betting
The most recent South Carolina sports betting bill, HB 5277, was considered historic in the scope of its ambition. It didn't just legalize some forms of sports betting; it legalized all forms of sports betting. If it passed, it would have been the first of its kind in the southern United States—a real benchmark that would shape policies adopted by neighboring places like Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and more.
But HB 5277 never made it through the house's most recent legislative session. And while many factors were responsible for holding it back, there's no denying the role played by incumbent governor Henry McMaster.
When he took the reins back in 2017, following the resignation of Nikki Haley, he made it clear that he opposed legal sports betting of any kind. In the roughly half-decade since, he has yet to change his stance. And although that could cost him favor among voters, his commitment to this slant for so long actually suggests the opposite. Is he perhaps speaking for the majority? Because if so, the 2022 elections may already be over.
Then again, if not...
Democratic Nominee Joe Cunningham Making Waves in South Carolina
Former South Carolina congressman Joe Cunningham will be running against McMaster, a Republican, as the Democratic nominee in November. Cunningham, like many in his party, is known to be a supporter of legal sports betting.
Many Democrats believe the potential tax revenue outstrips any morality issues or ideals that run counter to state constitutions. The tone in South Carolina is no different. They may not have the most lucrative sports betting market, but their handful of elite college football programs could be worth millions of dollars in sports betting revenue per year on their own. Cunningham himself has projected sports betting could generate $40 million per year in tax revenue for the state.
It isn't yet clear whether this will swing the election in Cunningham's favor. It's far too early for polls, and South Carolina has historically skewed republican.
Still, Cunningham is the same person who flipped a congressional seat in the famously ultra-red state. His ability to incite support shouldn't be underestimated—particularly when experts have said, unofficially, they believe the majority of South Carolina residents actually favor the legalization of sports betting.
South Carolina Sports Betting Could Throw November Curveball
Assuming South Carolina residents actually want sports betting, does that, in turn, mean Joe Cunningham is the favorite to win the governor's race in November? Maybe. But also, maybe not.
Many have speculated that Henry McMaster could change his tune on South Carolina legal sports betting if he believes most of his constituents support it. That's the power of this issue. The potential for state profits is enormous, and it allows those who have previously spoken out against it to hop aboard the bandwagon if and when it's convenient for them without facing much backlash, so long as their about-face jibes with the feelings of their voting base.
Ethically murky? You, ahem, bet. But it's also great news for anyone hoping legal sports betting comes to South Carolina in the near future. If the tenor of the public is for it, the next governor of South Carolina, whoever it is, will likely be in favor of it.
However, don't go holding your breath for South Carolina to roll out legal sports betting by the end of 2022. That isn't feasible. They have to get it approved after the elections, and at the point, they'll then need to set up their entire sports betting infrastructure, from rules and regulations to licenses. The soonest South Carolina can get sports betting is likely the end of 2023, if not the beginning of 2024.
On the bright side, if you live in South Carolina, you can still check out our reviews of the top online sportsbooks. Many of them will allow you to set up an account, make deposits, place wagers and process your payouts without a hitch. Believe us when we say this might be the safest way to go. Because while legal sports betting may eventually come to South Carolina, it isn't exactly right around the corner, either.
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