The way it stands now, a church that raffles off a pizza dinner for six is breaking the law. But a business that lures people in to gamble money playing Internet games is in the clear.
One is raising money to send aid to Nicaragua. The other could be enticing people to lose their grocery budgets.
Fortunately, it is looking good for both situations to be amended this year in Columbia.
A bill to allow charitable organizations to hold raffles passed the Senate 38-1 and has won the approval of the House Judiciary Committee.
And a bill to ban Internet sweepstakes machines passed the Senate in January and needs one more vote in the House before it goes to the governor.
The first would rectify an old law that bans raffles as a form of gambling. It is a carefully crafted bill that should allow non-profit organizations to make money for charitable ends.
The second is an attempt to clarify a law passed in 2000 to outlaw video poker, a scourge on the state and its people. The powerful gaming industry (it was a $2.8 billion industry in South Carolina before video poker was outlawed) found a loophole. It contends that Internet gaming is akin to legal sweepstakes games like ones offered through McDonald’s and Publishers Clearing House. The odds of winning are pre-determined and the outcome is set, no matter what players do.
The legal distinction is hazy, and clarifying it is a prudent move. The bill deserves the support of the governor as well.
Municipalities have tried to deal with sweepstakes machines on their own. Charleston restricted the places sweepstakes parlors can operate. Goose Creek banned them.
Legislators who have supported the amendment deserve commendation for standing up to the well-heeled gaming industry.
They recognize that video gambling brought serious problems to the state. One heartbreaking example: In 1997, a mother left her 10-day-old baby inside a car for seven hours while she played. The baby died from dehydration.
If both bills pass, people who have the gambling itch can satisfy the need to take a chance by purchasing a raffle ticket for that pizza dinner.
The odds are much better that they’ll win, and the community will be better off.
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