Over each of the past two years, proposals to legalize sports betting in South Carolina have been introduced and subsequently rejected, leaving many with little hope that the state's stance will ever change. In recent weeks, however, the idea that South Carolina sports betting could get the stamp of approval sometime in 2023 has started to gain traction.
That last line reads like a pipe dream to some extent. Once more, with feeling: South Carolina sports betting has been bounced from consideration at each of the past to legislature sessions. Not only that, but it's barely been a serious discussion.
Members of the Houses of Representatives and the Senate have borderline ignored the issue entirely. Sports betting bills have seemingly been introduced out of obligation and nothing more—for appearances sake. Most of the discussion the topic has generated features local officials, such as governor Henry McMaster, outright opposing legal sports betting rather than genuinely deliberating it. The minds of so many prominent leaders in the South Carolina government already seem to be made up.
Why should we believe this could all of a sudden change in 2023, the equivalent of less than one year's time? Is it because the state is suddenly expecting a regime change following elections this coming November?
The answer might surprise you. Because it sure as heck surprised us.
Election Years Are Bad For South Carolina Sports Betting
As it turns out, South Carolina sports betting legislation was at a disadvantage in 2022 due to it being an election year. At least that's what Brandt Iden, the head of government affairs at Sportradar and a former representative for Michigan, recently said.
“[Sports betting] is done [for 2022 in South Carolina], but I think that next year, once we get out of the election year, there’ll be a real conversation,” he explained recently. “Election years are always tough, that’s why we’ve only seen two states pass this year."
This logic is only half-true. Though just a couple of states, including Ohio and North Carolina, have committed to rolling out sports betting this year, there are a handful of others that will have the issue on their 2022 ballot. (California, for example.)
Still, the overarching sentiment makes sense. South Carolina is an overwhelmingly conservative state. Historically, government officials up for re-election have been hesitant to suggest or endorse, let alone flat-out implement, big policy changes. These incumbent leaders tend to fear negative effects at the impending polls; they don't want to inadvertently rankle their constituents, even if it means gaining the support of existing skeptics.
Maybe this line of thought doesn't apply to all situations. For South Carolina sports betting specifically, though, it seems to track. After all, this wasn't a state that directly and flagrantly opposed legal sports betting. It was a state that failed to address the topic at all this year. This gives weight to the theory that they avoided speaking in-depth about it on purpose, because they didn't want to isolate prospective voters on either side of the issue.
Will 2023 Actually be Any Different for Sports Betting in South Carolina?
South Carolina has a unique opportunity to shift course on sports betting in 2023 because their legislature meetings take place once per year. This runs contrary to other states, such as Texas, that only meet every other year. This alone is enough to give even more credence to the Election Year Theory.
Then again, cynics will be quick to note that South Carolina has failed to legalize sports betting in non-election years, as well. Legislation proposed in 2021, for instance, received no traction. Why should 2023 suddenly be different? Because the United States is different.
Roughly two years ago, in 2021, sports betting in the USA was legal for only a small minority of states. Fast forward to now, and more than 30 states, plus Washington D.C., will have some form of legal sports betting in place by the start of 2023. That's a massive increase in sports betting support.
Granted, this doesn't necessarily mean the state of South Carolina has reinvented their thinking. The incumbent governor, Henry McMaster, has actually spoke out against legal sports betting, even during a year in which he's up for re-election.
But this brings up another interesting tidbit: South Carolina sports betting isn't just about the state warming up to the idea. It's about them potentially conforming to the majority. Just look at all the neighboring states around South Carolina. Tennessee has already legalized sports betting. North Carolina is set to do the same. Many think Georgia will soon follow suit, too. Knowing that residents can simply bet on sports locally without contributing to the state economy may wind up being the push that South Carolina needs to change their tune in 2023—not unlike what's happened in Ohio over the past year.
Should We Expect South Carolina Sports Betting in 2023?
Prepare for a cop out. We're not willing to answer this question with any sort of certainty.
However, we are willing to say this: After considering the Election Year Theory, along with the mounting number of other states that have legalized gambling, 2023 is clearly the best chance to date South Carolina has of giving the green light to sports betting.
To be sure, this is different from predicting it will go through. Perhaps the Election Year Theory is overblown. Perhaps South Carolina residents should brace themselves to explore workarounds, such as leaving the state to place wagers or signing up with one of the sites from our reviews of the top online sportsbooks.
Or maybe, just maybe, the evidence in front of us is too salient to deny.
Legal sports betting is now the majority rule in the United States, and it's only a matter of time before everyone, including South Carolina, conforms to this new normal.
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