Legal South Carolina gambling options are limited for the most part. Residents and visitors can play the state lottery, charitable bingo, higher-stakes bingo games organized by Indian tribes and daily fantasy sports.
There are also a pair of casino cruise ships that depart daily from Littler River near North Myrtle beach that sail into the Atlantic Ocean. Otherwise, players will need to head to North Carolina for full-fledged land-based casinos.
South Carolina Gambling Options:
- State lottery: Retail sales only, no internet sales
- Bingo: Charities and tribal
- Daily fantasy sports: Online
- Casino Cruises: At least one of two ships depart daily from Little River
Online Gambling in South Carolina
Online gambling is illegal in South Carolina and lawmakers have shown little interest in changing that to date. The closest thing to legal online gambling in South Carolina is daily fantasy sports, and even that much is not explicitly clear due to outdated gaming laws that are open to interpretation.
Nevertheless, the country’s major fantasy sites accept customers from South Carolina and have done so for years with no pushback from state officials. In that case, we can safely call fantasy sports de-facto legal even if the law is unclear on the matter.
SC authorities are well aware that major fantasy sites operate throughout the state and that many residents play online, yet none have moved to put a stop to the activity.
Online Gambling Laws in South Carolina
South Carolina gambling laws do not specifically address the internet, but the laws can easily be interpreted to apply to online gambling. South Carolina makes it an offense to participate in gambling games as a player and to operate a gambling or sports betting operation.
Legalizing online gambling in South Carolina would require the introduction of new legislation. There have been no serious attempts to change the current status quo to date and there seems to be little appetite to do so.
Land-based Casinos in South Carolina
There are no land-based casinos in South Carolina.
However, there are two Big “M” cruise ships that depart daily from the Little River Inlet between North Myrtle Beach and the North Carolina state line. Both ships offer video poker, slots, craps, roulette, blackjack, three card poker and let it ride.
Both Big “M” casino cruises depart year-round from:
4491 Water Front Ave
Little River, SC 29556
Big “M” Ship I
- Sails every Monday
- 11 AM – 4:30 PM and 6:30 PM – 11:30 PM
- $10 cover charge
- Bring a guest to get a buy one, get one free buffet
- 21+ to sail
- $13 lunch buffet; $18 dinner buffet
Big “M” Ship II
- Sails daily except Mondays
- 11 AM – 4:30 PM and 6:30 PM – 11:30 PM
- $20 cover charge for morning cruises
- $25 cover for evening cruises
- $30 cover charge for Saturday evening cruises
- $13 lunch buffet; $18 dinner buffet
Casino Laws in South Carolina
Casino games are illegal across the board in South Carolina. SC Code §16-19-40 explicitly prohibits playing casino games in any place and provides a lengthy list of games that are prohibited:
If any person shall play at any tavern, inn, store for the retailing of spirituous liquors or in any house used as a place of gaming, barn, kitchen, stable or other outhouse, street, highway, open wood, race field or open place at (a) any game with cards or dice, (b) any gaming table, commonly called A, B, C, or E, O, or any gaming table known or distinguished by any other letters or by any figures, (c) any roley-poley table, (d) rouge et noir, (e) any faro bank (f) any other table or bank of the same or the like kind under any denomination whatsoever or (g) any machine or device licensed pursuant to Section 12-21-2720 and used for gambling purposes, except the games of billiards, bowls, backgammon, chess, draughts, or whist when there is no betting on any such game of billiards, bowls, backgammon, chess, draughts, or whist or shall bet on the sides or hands of such as do game, upon being convicted thereof, before any magistrate, shall be imprisoned for a period of not over thirty days or fined not over one hundred dollars, and every person so keeping such tavern, inn, retail store, public place, or house used as a place for gaming or such other house shall, upon being convicted thereof, upon indictment, be imprisoned for a period not exceeding twelve months and forfeit a sum not exceeding two thousand dollars, for each and every offense.
SC CODE §16-19-50 further outlaws possessing or using gaming tables and gaming machines. Conviction under §16-19-50 results in a fine of $200 to $500.
Video poker machines began popping up in South Carolina bars in the 1980s. These games were legitimatized by a change in a redemption machine law in 1986 that was meant to include prizes won on amusement machines like one may find at Dave & Busters or Chuck E. Cheese these days. However, it opened the door for one of the oddest legal gambling stories in America’s history.
In 1991, the state supreme court ruled that video poker was legal in South Carolina if the machines did not pay out and instead the payment was made by a human. This opened the door to a $2 billion a year industry in the most unlikely of locations. Casinos popped up all over the state, especially along its borders with Georgia and North Carolina.
In 1993, the Video Game Machines Act capped payouts to players at $125 per day. Operators got around this by paying jackpots over multiple days. The Act also permitted counties to ban the games through referendums. However, courts struck this down as the state requires laws to apply equally to all counties.
In 1999, the state legislature passed a law that banned video poker in South Carolina. It allowed for voters to veto this and keep video poker. The South Carolina Supreme Court nullified that part of the law because the state does not have a referendum right. On July 1, 2000, South Carolina’s video poker industry was laid to rest.
Several attempts have been made to bring video poker in through the back door. This includes sweepstakes machines. All have been met with legal action and seizures of games.
SC Code §12-21-2710 bans most gaming machines and calls for imprisonment of up to a year for violations:
It is unlawful for any person to keep on his premises or operate or permit to be kept on his premises or operated within this State any vending or slot machine, or any video game machine with a free play feature operated by a slot in which is deposited a coin or thing of value, or other device operated by a slot in which is deposited a coin or thing of value for the play of poker, blackjack, keno, lotto, bingo, or craps, or any machine or device licensed pursuant to Section 12-21-2720 and used for gambling or any punch board, pull board, or other device pertaining to games of chance of whatever name or kind, including those machines, boards, or other devices that display different pictures, words, or symbols, at different plays or different numbers, whether in words or figures or, which deposit tokens or coins at regular intervals or in varying numbers to the player or in the machine, but the provisions of this section do not extend to coin-operated nonpayout pin tables, in-line pin games, or to automatic weighing, measuring, musical, and vending machines which are constructed as to give a certain uniform and fair return in value for each coin deposited and in which there is no element of chance.
Sports Betting in South Carolina
Sports betting is illegal in South Carolina. This includes online, mobile or brick-and-mortar wagering. It is also not permitted on the cruise ships that dock in the state.
Some politicians have expressed some interest in legalizing South Carolina sports betting despite the state’s long resistance to most things gambling. Lawmakers introduced Joint Resolution 3409 in January 2019 as a means to legalize sports betting and parimutuel wagering via statewide referendum, but the bill never made it past the committee stage.
There have been no serious efforts to legalize sports betting in South Carolina since then and it will likely be quite some time before residents have legal betting options at home. Not only would lawmakers and the governor have to agree to legalize sports betting, but any such measure would most likely have to be approved by the voters in a statewide referendum.
South Carolina Sports Betting Law
SC Code §16-19-130 states: Betting, pool selling, bookmaking and the like prohibited. This include one who “Engages in betting at any race track, pool selling or bookmaking, with or without writing, at any time or place.”
The law goes on to include an exhaustive list of places where keeping a bookmaking operation is illegal as a separate crime, which basically includes anywhere. The South Carolina Legislature has not shown interest in changing this after the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court.
Poker in South Carolina
Poker is not legal in South Carolina in any commercial capacity. This includes live and online poker. The two Big “M” casino cruise ships could potentially offer poker but have so far chosen not to do so.
Poker Laws in South Carolina
SC Code §16-19-40 16-19-50 prohibits the keeping of poker tables for commercial purposes. It is illegal in all commercial uses within state lines.
Home Poker Games
Home poker games are legal under SC law provided they meet certain requirements.
SC Code §16-19-60 permits “certain social games of tiles, cards, and dice not unlawful under certain circumstances.” Participants must have a social relationship, the game must not have a rake or fee and all players must have an equal chance of winning. Social games must be in private residences or community centers. These games are not legal in businesses, even if there is no rake, as the operator could profit from it in other ways.
Home poker games must be organized carefully because police raids on games do happen from time to time. A particularly high-profile poker raid in 2006 resulted in five men being ticketed for operating an illegal home game. The defendants challenged their convictions all the way to the Supreme Court.
In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled against the men and upheld their convictions because the game charged a small rake and was advertised online. This case is quite dated today, but South Carolina poker laws have not changed since.
Fantasy Sports in South Carolina
Daily fantasy sports contests are alive and well in South Carolina. All major fantasy sites accept customers from South Carolina who are 18 or older.
Fantasy Sports Law
South Carolina’s ancient gambling laws make no mention of fantasy sports. Although it seems possible to interpret the laws as applying to fantasy sports due to elements of luck being involved, there have been no efforts to shut down the major fantasy sites that operate here.
Furthermore, the state has made no attempt whatsoever to reign in daily fantasy sports since the industry exploded back in 2014-2015. We know policymakers are aware of aware of daily fantasy because, as The State reported back in 2015, the Executive Director of the Education Lottery Commission asked the Attorney General to opine on the legality of fantasy sports.
The Office of the Attorney General responded with a simple statement:
“Our office has not received any complaints about this matter. We have no position on it, because we’re not involved with it at this time.”
It seems unlikely South Carolina will move to outlaw daily fantasy sports at this point. If anything, future legislation is more likely to formally legalize and regulate the industry.
South Carolina Lottery
The South Carolina Education Lottery was formed through a constitutional referendum in November 2000 and the first scratch-off tickets were sold on January 7th, 2002. Draw games were launched shortly thereafter and the SC Lottery has been going strong ever since.
Over its lifetime, the South Carolina Lottery has contributed billions of dollars to educational efforts throughout the state (primarily scholarships) on roughly $2 billion worth of sales every year.
The SC Lottery does not sell games online, nor does it authorize third parties to do so. All tickets must be purchased in-person from authorized retailers. The lottery occasionally uses the term “online” when describing games that are managed by a central computer system, but this has nothing to do with actually buying tickets online.
Today, the SC Lottery sells instant win games and tickets to the following draw games.
South Carolina Intrastate Lotto Drawings
- Pick 3
- Pick 4
- Palmetto Cash 5
South Carolina Interstate Lotto Drawings
- Mega Millions
- Lucky for Life
South Carolina Lottery Law
South Carolina residents established the state lottery after approving Amendment 1 on the November 2000 ballot. The passage of Amendment 1 authorized an amendment to the state constitution, which previously prohibited lottery-style games, and dedicated revenue generated by the lottery to public education.
Lawmakers then passed the South Carolina Education Lottery Act. Among other things, the Act set a minimum age of 18 to play, established the Lottery Commission, created the Education Lottery Account
Lottery funds are allocated to educational efforts by the state legislature. Proceeds may only supplement, not supplant, existing education funding.
Games of Skill
Unlike most states, South Carolina appears to prohibit betting on contests of skill. Established skill gaming websites that operate in most states generally avoid South Carolina.
SC Code §16-19-130(3) prohibits anyone from accepting wagers on the results of any “(a) trial or contest of skill, speed or power of endurance of man or beast, (b) political nomination, appointment or election or (c) lot, chance, casualty, unknown or contingent event whatsoever…”
South Carolina gaming laws are ill-equipped to deal with esports betting, so naturally there is uncertainty regarding the legality of betting on esports.
What is clear is betting on other people’s esports matches is illegal under South Carolina’s anti bookmaking laws. Betting on esports as a spectator or accepting wagers from other people are both illegal in South Carolina.
What’s unclear is whether or not it is illegal to bet on one’s own esports matches, such as paying money to enter a tournament or heads-up contest with real money payouts. Some competitive esports betting/matchmaking websites accept customers from South Carolina and some do not.
South Carolina Horse Racing Betting
Horse racing does occur in South Carolina, but betting on races is prohibited by state law. Nevertheless, South Carolina does have a rich racing history and hosts a handful of well-attended events such as:
Charities are permitted to host bingo games and raffles. The charity games are some of the most heavily regulated in the country. Operators, manufacturers and promoters must all be licensed by the state. These licenses range from $500 to $4,000. Charity gaming players must be at least 18 years of age.
Bingo nights have entry fees of $3, $5 or $18, depending on the size of the contest. The prize pool must be static and advertised before the event. It cannot be dependent on the number of entries. Bingo may only be held from noon to 2 AM and sessions may not be longer than 12 hours.
When it comes to raffles, drawings with non-cash prizes under $950 do not need to register with the state. These raffles may be held once every seven days. Raffles with prize pools up to $250,000 with a single prize of up to $40,000 are permitted four times a year. These large charitable drawings require registration with the state.
State Gambling Regulatory Agencies
- South Carolina Education Lottery
- South Carolina Secretary of State (charitable raffles)
- South Carolina Department of Revenue (charitable bingo)
South Carolina Gambling FAQ
South Carolina Responsible Gambling Resources
As a mostly non-gambling state, South Carolina does not expend a significant amount of resources on problem gambling. However, there are treatment options for anyone who may have a gambling problem or who is concerned about a loved one.
The South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services has a problem gambling department that provides services to individuals and families. Services include individual assessments, treatment plans and referrals to qualified providers.
Additionally, gamblers and concerned loved ones of gamblers can contact the National Council on Problem Gambling at 1-800-522-4700 or visit NCPGambling.org. Additional national resources can be found at the bottom of the USGambling homepage.