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South Carolina Poker Laws

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middleton-place-color-797South Carolina is one of the more conservative states when it comes to gambling, and this might even be putting it mildly, as you will see as we have a look at their laws on gambling and gaming in general.

Let’s start with their law against playing games on Sunday:

“Whosoever shall keep or suffer to be kept any gaming table or permit an game or games to be played in his house on the Sabbath day, on conviction thereof before any court having jurisdiction, shall be fined in the sum of fifty dollars…”

So if you read this as your not being able to play any game on Sunday, regardless of whether it is being wagered on, you are correct. It is hard to imagine the authorities breaking down your door for playing checkers with your family on Sunday, but doing so would clearly be against the law.

So what about the other days of the week? Well let’s look at the section called “unlawful games and betting”:

“If a 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) a game of cards or dice, (b) any gaming table, commonly called A, B, C, D, E, O, or any gaming table known or distinguished by any other letters or by any other figures, (c) roley poley table, (d) rouge et noir, (e) any faro bank, (f) any other table or bank of the same or 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 whilst when there is no betting on any such game of billiards, bowls, backgammon, chess draughts, or whilst or shall bet on the sides of hands of such as do game, upon being convicted thereof, before any magistrate, shall be imprisoned for a period not exceeding twelve months and forfeit a sum not exceeding two thousand dollars, for each and every offense…” (2)

So this is surely a mouthful, the good news is that you can play games such as billiards or chess so long as you do not bet on the outcome. The bad news is that any game involving cards or dice is illegal to play regardless of whether there are wagers on the game or not, at least in the listed venues.

This may be hard to believe but this is exactly what the law says in South Carolina. The intention may not have been to write it this broadly but they did manage to do that.


How This Applies To Poker Here

Obviously, if it is illegal to play any card game, as poker is indeed a card game, playing poker is therefore against the law in South Carolina, at least in certain places, and we‘ll have to look closely at where these places would be to determine that.

Aside from not being able to play cards at inns or commercial establishments that serve alcohol, the next stipulation, “any house used as a place of gaming” is one we have to look at. The term house here is probably used more broadly then one’s residence, but we do know that it does include that for sure as they refer to “kitchen” as well. So house likely means any enclosed location, and they do specify that out buildings also are included, as well as any open place.

So this actually is as comprehensive as they could have made it and they could have said instead that these games are not permitted at any location whatsoever in the state. So the certain places that we were wondering about as far as the scope of this would be anywhere at all.

Once again it bears to keep in mind that we’re not just talking gambling at poker, we’re talking playing it at all, and that part is quite clear in the law. The only mention of cards or dice is that they are included in the scope of the law, and the games that qualify as exemptions provided that they do not involve gambling, such as chess and backgammon, does not include cards or dice, which are simply prohibited.


Playing Poker In South Carolina

It is not that poker is illegal here but they have licensed establishments that offer it, there are none to be had in this state. The only permitted gambling in the state of South Carolina is playing the state lottery. No para-mutual wagering is allowed and they even have a specific law against the use of punch boards.

There’s no social gaming exemptions here either, the only way you can play poker legally is to take an offshore cruise, they have two that offer casino betting but only one that offers poker, the Sun Cruz Casino. (2)

Aside from that, while it is often clear that general prohibitions against gambling also include online poker, it’s not crystal clear here in South Carolina, although it would seem quite a stretch to have to argue that online poker is not played with cards and is instead played with something else, graphics on a screen perhaps. There is no real legal substance to this argument though and courts generally will not permit such a narrow view, particularly when the claim runs so counter to the intention underlying the law, which is very much the case here.

As always, what the law says is one thing but how it’s being enforced is another. The focus in South Carolina is on operators of gambling establishments and schemes, such as the recent conviction of a Greenville man who had been running illegal gambling for 23 years before being arrested. He testified that in the years prior to the bust, law enforcement knew about it and merely told him to move it “off the beaten path.” (3)

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(1) South Carolina Code of Laws, 16-19-40, Unlawful Games and Betting

(2) SunCruz Casino Poker

(3) South Carolina Illegal Gambling Convict Accuses Greenville County Sheriffs Department


About the Author

Sadonna Price
Author Sadonna is a mom of two and an avid poker player who also enjoys online casino games. She has been part of the online gambling industry for over a decade, working as a news and blog writer. Sadonna still plays Texas hold’em in her free time while her daily job revolves around providing insights into the online gambling world using her creativity and writing skills.