Sun City Hilton Head residents barred from playing canasta, bridge and mahjong might soon be allowed to do so without breaking the law, after a bill to legalize the games passed the S.C. Senate unanimously Tuesday.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, would amend an 1802 anti-gambling law to allow games of cards, dice and tiles in homes and clubhouses. After a third, cursory vote Thursday, the bill will move to the S.C. House.
Davis challenged the law after a state alcohol-enforcement agent told a Sun City Hilton Head community manager in May that allowing gambling where beer or liquor are sold would endanger the facility's license, SLED spokesman Thom Berry said.
The law also bans such games in homes, Davis said.
"Most of us are law-abiding citizens, and when they came in and said we were breaking the law we were dumbfounded," said Tori Gersbacher, vice chairman of Sun City's Neighborhood Representative Council. "You could have knocked most of us over with a piece of spaghetti."
While others have attempted to change the law, conservative senators have argued that any leniency could lead to a resurgence of video poker and other betting games. Those activities would still be banned under Davis' bill.
The Beaufort senator said opponents became more receptive to his bill after he threatened to sue the state on behalf of the residents. He noted that Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal has written the law is "hopelessly outdated" and "expired in usefulness long ago."
Davis said he has received more emails about the ban on social games than any other issue in his six years as a senator.
"It's a material part of their quality of life," he said. "(The law) was actually changing the way they had to conduct their lives in their district, and for no good reason."
Beaufort County Councilman Jerry Stewart of Sun City said he is optimistic the House will soon vote to restore gaming, and a vital element of his community's lifestyle.
"It's just been a shame that things had to come to what they did," Stewart said. "Hopefully it will pass, and all will be good."
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.
- Sun City restaurant game confiscated for potential gambling violation, October 23, 2012: http://bit.ly/1n0BIQA