How dare those Democrats try to introduce sin and vice to South Carolina.

Don't they know this is a good, pious state?

Sure, we don't take care of our poor, or our elderly, or abused children - that would cost money - but at least we don't have any casinos.

Now House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford wants to change all that. He says licensing a few gambling houses on the Grand Strand would help fund that $30 billion backlog in road repairs.

Oh yeah, we don't take care of those either.

But why do we need casinos? Gov. Nikki Haley says she has a plan to fix the roads, but she won't tell us what it is unless we re-elect her.

See, Haley wants to fix roads without raising the gas tax, and while simultaneously eliminating the tax on corporate profits and personal income. And that's going to be a trick, because she also opposes new taxes and casinos.

So either Haley plans to hit the lottery, or the road to piety is going to be full of potholes.

A sure bet

Rutherford is not a gambler, he's a pragmatist.

Casinos are basically free money - hundreds of millions of dollars in licensing fees and annual taxes. Folks who don't like government regulation, or paying taxes, should love this idea.

But it's not that simple. People who gripe all day about their taxes going up $50 a year will feed $100 into a slot machine without a second thought. Guess it's all those spinning cherries.

"A lot of the people who would vote against this would also be the first ones on the church bus to Cherokee," Rutherford says.

Yep. We are not only a pious state, we are a hypocritical one. Who else would outlaw video poker and immediately start their own gambling organization?

In fairness, some people didn't want the lottery, either. Others say, yeah, but the South Carolina Education Lottery is for a good cause - it subsidizes college for middle-class kids.

That's how they should look at casinos. Paving roads is a good cause, too.

Other people's money

Massachusetts recently became the 40th state to allow casinos.

Yes, we are one of 10 states not cashing in.

Even our brethren at the bottom of most national rankings - Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana - have them, and none of them have turned to salt yet. Although the superstitious might argue that Hurricane Katrina was some sort of divine statement on table gaming.

Truth is, casinos are no panacea. They bring in some jobs and they generate tax revenue, but they don't solve everything. The aforementioned states are proof of that.

But they don't destroy civilization either, especially when compulsive gamblers can just cross the state line to blow their money.

Years ago, the state turned down the Catawba Indian Nation's proposal to build a casino in Santee. Now the tribe is looking at a site just across the line in North Carolina.

Douglas Walker, an economics professor at the College of Charleston, is an expert on the economics of casinos. He has written books on the topic, conducted studies for several states.

Walker says gambling houses are still a good bet for most states, some of which are taking a rake of more than half. Pennsylvania, for instance, makes more than $1 billion in tax revenue each year off its 11 casinos.

He says for a place like Myrtle Beach, casinos would be one more factor luring folks to the state. And that's how you profit - pulling in even more tourists to fund things you don't want to pay for yourself.

Massachusetts only legalized casinos because studies showed they were losing between $800 million and $1 billion a year to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos in Connecticut.

Ouch.

People need to pull their heads out of the sand. The state is missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars. Forty other states have casinos, and the world hasn't ended. And, Rutherford says, none of those other states have Myrtle Beach.

"It would make Myrtle Beach a year-round destination," Rutherford says.

He's right.

Unfortunately, the Legislature is full of people who think they are all proper and pious. Years ago, Rutherford concedes, this idea would have been a non-starter. But things may be changing. See, these pious people hate one thing more than vice: taxes.

So these uptight, Upstate yahoos can proselytize all they want, but there's nothing pious about neglecting your job to score political points.

One day, these holy rollers are either going to have to welcome casinos or raise taxes, unless they want to watch South Carolina collapse into one big pothole.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com