• The State

SC has the lottery, but is there a desire to expand gambling? Governor candidates are split

When Jim Hodges ran for governor in 1998, he embraced the lottery, something Republican incumbent David Beasley opposed.

“It became a centerpiece of the campaign built around that, and I think the other piece of that is the people of South Carolina wanted the right to vote on it,” Hodges said. “They thought we should have a say on whether or not we had a lottery in the state.”

Different factors played into that 1998 race, but Hodges capitalized on the popularity of the lottery— which was legal in Georgia — to sway voters.

Twenty four years later, as Joe Cunningham seeks to become the first Democrat to win the governor’s office since Hodges, he wants to legalize an activity lawful in neighboring North Carolina that Republican Gov. Henry McMaster opposes: sports betting.

Cunningham’s call for sports betting comes as lawmakers in the State House have filed legislation to legalize betting on horse races as a way to help the state’s equine industry. Those pushing to permit betting on horse racing prefer to start with something small before any type of larger gaming move.

McMaster, however, isn’t a supporter of expanding gambling in the state beyond the education lottery, saying it runs contrary to South Carolina’s values.


Cunningham’s push for sports betting is part of his larger “freedom agenda,” which includes eliminating the state income tax, protecting abortion access, fixing the state’s roads, raising teacher pay and calling for age limits on politicians.

“It’s not just about the revenue, it’s about the freedom to have the ability to throw a bet down on a weekend game,” Cunningham said in August. “That’s what South Carolinians want.”

Sports betting has been an option for states since 2018, when a Supreme Court ruling upheld a New Jersey law permitting the activity. As of Sept. 1, 31 states plus the District of Columbia now allow the practice, and five other states have approved the activity but aren’t operational yet, according to the American Gaming Association.

McMaster, who is seeking a second full term, opposes any type of gambling expansion in the state.