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SC Horse Study Committee May Discuss Gambling Too

 Horses race at Tampa Bay Downs in 2018.
Jeff Griffith
Horses race at Tampa Bay Downs in 2018. A legislative committee in South Carolina could be eyeing a proposal to legalize gambling on horse races in the state.

Some legislators on a committee studying the economic impact of raising and racing horses in South Carolina said the group should also consider legalizing betting on horse racing.

The Equine Industry Support Measures Study Committee made up of two House members and two senators as well as two people in the horse industry and a representative from the state Agriculture Department is spending the next eight months studying what horses do for the state's economy.

They first met last month and plan more meetings in places where horses are popular, like Aiken, Clemson and Camden, committee chairman Rep. Russell Ott told The State newspaper.

The state law creating the committee was passed by the General Assembly in April. It tells the group to study how the state can grow the horse industry or reduce the barriers to its growth as well as compare the incentives offered by South Carolina to other states and whether South Carolina should cooperate with horse facilities in other states.

But at that first meeting, the committee also brought up allowing betting on horse races as the law also allows the group to take up “any other issues that the committee determines are of interest and benefit."

State Sen. Dick Harpootlian said any study should include how to make the state more attractive to out-of-state people who like horses and races.

“I’m interested in bringing horses here, tourists here, people here to participate and be entertained by the horse industry,” the Columbia Democrat said.. “And if having tracks where people can bet, ... I want the money to be here.”

But bills allowing betting on horses face an uphill climb both directly and indirectly in the General Assembly.

The state constitution must be changed, requiring a two-thirds vote on an amendment by the House and Senate. The amendment then would have to be approved by a majority of voters.

And one of the state's worst political scandals last century involved a gambling bill. Operation Lost Trust started as an undercover sting to pay cash for support for a bill allowing horse betting. Around 18 lawmakers would end up facing charges when the investigation ended about 30 years ago.

Ott said a discussion about gambling is needed as a part of the broad discussion on the horse industry.

“It’s very important to South Carolina. I think it can be even more important," the Democrat from St. Matthews said.

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