As local leaders deliberate the merits and drawbacks of a proposed casino in Hardeeville, state Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, is co-sponsoring a bill to give counties authority to establish local gambling operations.
Legislators backing the bill say it is unrelated to a casino proposed for Hardeeville, which would require approval by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and Gov. Nikki Haley, and be operated by Cherokee Indians under federal, not state, authority.
Casino gambling and parimutuel betting -- such as dog and horse racing -- are illegal in South Carolina.
Herbkersman and the bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Boyd Brown, D-Fairfield, said their bill -- although not connected to the Hardeeville proposal -- could help bring other gambling establishments to counties if it passes.
"If people in Greenville don't want (gambling), people in Myrtle Beach, or Hardeeville, should be allowed to vote on it," Herbkersman said. "People in the state should be able to control their own destiny."
Their bill (H3931) was filed in March 2011 and is consistent with Herbkersman's previous support for gambling in places that choose to have it.
In 2009 he wrote a newspaper column in which he suggested that parimutuel betting be considered for Beaufort County to raise tax revenue, saying many of his constituents already wagered online.
Herbkersman has shied away from endorsing the Hardeeville proposal, however, saying he would need to assess its economic and cultural impact first.
"I'm not a big proponent of having casino-like gambling in the area," he said. "Casino betting has a tendency to bring in an element that may or may not be desirable."
Herbkersman said he'd be more supportive of the Hardeeville proposal were it not to be owned by Cherokee Indians. They "shouldn't have any more privileges or rights than our current residents," he said.
"That's a type of affirmative action I don't support," he said.
Brown and Herbkersman also said the governor should not have unilateral authority to nullify or approve the Hardeeville casino.
"There should be no reason for a governor to have to sign off on a casino," he said. At a meeting last week to unveil the Hardeeville plan, developers said the complex would employ about 2,250 people and create $92 million in wages, salaries and benefits in Jasper County.
Gov. Nikki Haley said through a spokesman that she would not approve the casino. Brown criticized Haley's quick dismissal.
"It's time to put some of our social and political beliefs aside when it comes to jobs," he said. "For her to dismiss (the proposal) out of hand is an amateur move. What have people in Beaufort and Jasper counties done to tick her off?"
Brown said he didn't file the bill at the encouragement of pro-gambling lobbyists.
Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, called the bill a "nonstarter."
"I don't think it has any chance in the Senate," he said. "Last year, we couldn't even pass a relatively benign bill concerning raffles and penny-ante table poker."
Nonetheless, Davis said he would remain open to discussions about the Hardeeville casino.
"I'd love to have a conversation with my constituents about it," Davis said. "I'm interested in hearing what they have to say. Everyone has an opinion on it."
Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.