Pay closer attention to gambling proposal

The only sure bet on tinkering with South Carolina's gambling law is that it is likely to create more problems than it solves.

People work overtime to create and find loopholes in gambling laws because there is a lot of money to be made through games of chance.

That's why a bill introduced this spring by state Rep. Bill Herbkersman of Bluffton deserves much more scrutiny than it got in the waning days of the 2013 legislative session.

Herbkersman, who has been consistent during his tenure at the Statehouse as a proponent for various types of gambling, says he wants state law to enable innocent citizens to play cards at the clubhouse while sipping wine.

"We want to get ladies in Sun City to be able to go in the clubhouse, have a glass of wine and play cribbage," he said. "It's not a gambling law. It's a personal freedom law."

He's wrong. It is a gambling law, pure and simple.

Herbkersman's bill, which could emerge from committee in the 2014 legislative session, proposes to change state law "relating to gambling and lotteries, so as to add definitions for the regulation of gambling, to make uniform penalties for unlawful lotteries and gambling, to allow for recovery of gambling losses under certain circumstances, and to provide a procedure for the destruction of certain illegal gambling devices."

The bill includes language that would allow coin-operated games that pay winnings through tokens, tickets, points or vouchers.

What has that got to do with ladies playing cribbage at Sun City Hilton Head?

Why is this bill supported by the S.C. Entertainment Law Consortium? Does it also play cribbage at Sun City?

Why does the bill worry those who oppose video poker?

It's good that Herbkersman and others who support this bill will sit down with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division chief to discuss it this summer.

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson also needs to get involved.

South Carolina has some unusual liquor laws, to be sure, but it also has a problem keeping gambling forces at bay. Years ago, the legislature enabled video poker through a small provision in the thick budget bill and before it could say "snake eyes," the state was overrun with a poorly regulated multimillion-dollar gambling industry.

As soon as it managed to snuff that out, here comes the challenge of storefront parlors offering Internet sweepstakes. The ink is barely dry on the last attempt to shut them out. It was a long and cumbersome process.

Yet here we go again tinkering with a law that barely works as is.

It doesn't take a riverboat gambler to wager on who has more at stake in amending South Carolina gambling law -- entertainment consortiums or the ladies playing cribbage in Sun City. For that reason, the smart money is on extreme caution, and tedious public and legal attention, to this bill.