Outhouses, poker laws outdated

features -- Poker Illustration for Judy Watts . (GRACE BEAHM/STAFF)

If you think our state's gaming laws are ridiculous, just wait until you read them.

That's what happened Monday at the North Charleston public hearing about proposed changes to the law. An attorney actually read one of the statutes aloud and it's, well, jaw-dropping stupid.

Basically, the law that local police use to bust up poker games in private homes says you can't play any game that uses cards or dice in a variety of places, including your barn, stable, kitchen ... "or other outhouse."

In other words, our state's anti-gaming law was written before there were kitchens in houses.

You know, it's hard to build a bridge to the 21st century when you start in the 19th. But that's where we are, and it's probably not going to change anytime soon. This state is so slow to catch up with modern times, the Legislature only last year designated "Frampton Comes Alive!" as the official State Eight-Track Tape.

Sens. Glenn McConnell, Robert Ford and Jake Knotts are among those level-headed legislators trying to make kitchen-table poker legal, but they admit the Greenville Bible Belt will likely have a moral objection.

It's funny. Many people around here believe the government should stay out of their lives — but have no qualms about siccing them on someone else.

Lock the door?

Right now, McConnell is pushing two pieces of legislation to modernize the state. One would overturn the "outhouse" anti-gaming law; the other calls for a constitutional amendment to allow churches and charities to charge for raffle tickets.

In remarks that should win the Oscar for most honest remarks by a politician, McConnell asked Monday, "Why should the state have the monopoly?"

Amen.

That point really takes the wind out of the sails of those who oppose gambling.

On Monday, gambling opponents said legalizing raffles and kitchen-table poker could be a back door to casinos. Well, here's a news flash: there already is gambling in South Carolina. A casino boat sails daily out of Little River, the Catawbas had a bingo hall for years, and the state of South Carolina Education Lottery is the biggest numbers game in town.

Come to think of it, why would a casino be such a bad idea?

Don't like it? Don't play

Doug Walker, an associate professor of economics at the College of Charleston, has studied casinos extensively, from the economic and social angles, and can give you all the arguments for and against. It is, as he says, complicated.

In favor of the casinos, you have increased state revenue, more jobs and, he notes, the option for consumers. The negative: some people have a moral opposition, and a small percentage of people could develop gambling problems.

"My view is the pros probably outweigh the cons," Walker says.

A few years ago, Connecticut was raking in $350 million a year from Foxwoods slots. Our budget shortfall isn't much bigger than that. As for the morals, well, let's just outlaw beer, cigarettes and soap operas. After all, some people get hooked on them. What about the personal responsibility some of these same people preach?

Fact is, the Catawbas ought to be allowed to open a full casino at Interstate 95 and Interstate 26. It would bring jobs to the most depressed area of the state, give South Carolina more revenue and increase tourism dramatically.

But that's a fight for another day. First, we probably ought to bring the state into the age of the indoor kitchen.