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Think how much South Carolina could make with this on the Grand Strand.

State lawmakers are trying to cash in with SCANA, but they’re leaving a lot of other money on the table.

While nuke-gate sucks up all the air in the Statehouse, which is certainly entertaining, South Carolina has other needs going largely ignored.

State employees, many of whom are underpaid or reaching retirement age, are leaving in droves. The Department of Education needs $54 million for teacher salaries, and the colleges want $400 million for capital projects.

Some of which admittedly should be considered optional.

Even people who don’t care about any of that are concerned about roads. We now have 5 million residents who put more strain on our infrastructure every day. The new gas tax will bring in about $180 million, when the Department of Transportation could use more than $1 billion a year.

Meanwhile, the solution to some of these problems collects dust in legislative committees.

Yes, casinos.

Last year, 68 percent of South Carolina residents said they would welcome legalized gambling if the money funded infrastructure improvements. Yet lawmakers refuse to touch the idea, mostly on moral grounds.

Sorry, but these are the people who elected a foul-mouthed casino mogul president — they have ceded all moral authority on this issue.

Fact is, their hypocrisy and selective piety is costing this state money.

Missing the boat

Of course, casinos are no cure-all.

And some think tanks will tell you that states’ casino revenues decline over time. Well, except in Nevada. Fair enough.

But in one recent year, Mississippi made $2.2 billion on casinos, Louisiana raked in $2.4 billion and Indiana collected $2.6 billion — and none of those are in the top three gambling states. Or sit on the busiest interstate in the nation.

Even if South Carolina collected only half as much money, how many of the state’s 465 crumbling bridges could we repair with scratch like that?

At least 40 states have legalized gambling, and none of them have turned to salt. Legalized gambling has become the norm and South Carolina is missing the boat, especially with so few alternatives in neighboring North Carolina and Georgia.

State Rep. Todd Rutherford and Sen. Gerald Malloy have made this case repeatedly, and it always falls on deaf ears. Even reasonable legislative leaders say there’s no appetite for this, that it’s wrong.

Most state residents disagree. In the same Winthrop University poll that found more than two-thirds of South Carolinians would support casinos if the money helped roads, 54 percent said they were OK with casinos without any qualifications.

Those numbers are growing more positive every year and, as Rutherford says, it’s time to quit sticking to the same playbook.

Especially since, let’s be honest, South Carolina already has gambling.

If it's good enough for kids …

It’s funny, but gambling opponents get all concerned about victims when this conversation comes up.

Yet those same people have no problem allowing the state Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, or other social services, go underfunded and understaffed. Casino revenue could certainly help them.

Yes, it’s true that some people would get addicted to gambling and probably blow all their money at casinos. They are the ones now frittering away their paychecks on the South Carolina Education Lottery.

But there is no way lawmakers are shutting that down. People would riot if those lottery scholarships dried up.

So, a lot of people are benefiting from legalized gambling in South Carolina but stopping others — including all those people who might find work in casinos — from doing the same.

That is hypocritical and self-defeating.

It’s not like the state would force this on anyone. Just give local communities the ability to decide. Some folks in Myrtle Beach think casinos would help the city through the lean winter months. Others don't want gambling anywhere near the Grand Strand. Sounds like a referendum.

Same goes for Santee, Rock Hill, North Charleston and Columbia.

If it doesn't work, they shut down. What have we lost? Businesses close every day. Just last week, it was announced 63 Sam's Clubs will close.

Every day people hide behind faux morality while supporting immoral leaders, they lose more credibility.

And every day South Carolina refuses to allow casinos, it loses more money.

It's something to think about while dodging potholes on Interstate 26.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.