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Wanna bet? Don’t hold your breath

Posted: May 17, 2018 10:21 a.m.
Updated: May 18, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Lindsay Jennings/C-I

HORSES MAKE THEIR WAY around the course in a race at this year’s Carolina Cup Steeplechase Races.

When the Supreme Court ruled Monday that states outside of Nevada would be able to legalize sports gambling, there was one school of thought here in Kershaw County, Camden, in particular, that the ruling could be a boon to the Carolina Cup Steeplechase Races.

For years, those unaware of the Palmetto State’s long-held laws prohibiting gambling thought it was strange that you would run a day of racing without being able to head to the betting window before hooves met the turf to place a wager on their favorite horse or, horses. After all, the majority of people who casually watch horse racing on television, once or twice a year, tune in to view a Triple Crown race in which odds are constantly updated either on the main screen itself or, the crawler on the bottom of the telecast.

What the Supreme Court ruling did was to allow states to make their own decision as to would they want to allow gambling within their borders. States, should they pass gambling measures, would now be the beneficiary of such transactions, taking money from bettors away from illegal sports books and moving those funds into state coffers.

When the Supreme Court decided to hear the case last June, more than 20 states --- not including South Carolina --- had taken up their own version of gambling bills in the event the ruling was favorable to the individual stats. After Monday’s 6-3 decision was made public, it was game on.

For those envisioning the chance to lay down a 10 spot at some state-run establishment in Columbia on the Carolina Panthers when they host the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 9 in Charlotte, it is time to pump the breaks a bit. In fact, the Cleveland Browns could win a Super Bowl before you could bet on one here.

First, South Carolina has never been a state whose residents and legislators have embraced gambling regardless of who makes the money. Second, should a bill be brought to committee, the odds would be overwhelmingly against the operation being in place by the NFL’s opening weekend.

Just last year, a proposed bill amending the state constitution was one which would have allowed legalized betting on horse racing and professional sports in South Carolina was proposed by S.C. House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford. With the South Carolina Legislature not scheduled to reconvene until January, any momentum which the bill may have gained with the Supreme Court’s recent judgment will have stalled.

S.C. Senator Vincent Sheheen, a longtime patron of the Carolina Cup Steeplechase Races as well as the former Colonial Cup, said the Supreme Court’s ruling will have little or no effect on the Palmetto State, at least for the time being.

“I do not see the South Carolina government approving sports gambling in the foreseeable future,” Sheheen said when asked of the possibility of legalized gambling coming to the state.

What has not been said is that any gambling measure in the state, at some point in the future, would be DOA. That leaves the tiniest sliver of a chance that somehow, some way, down the road state residents could try and turn a buck thanks to the good fortunes of their favorite sports team or, in Camden’s instance, a Thoroughbred.

Other than the grab bag infield game of picking the name a horse out of a hat for an entry fee of a few bucks which takes place each Carolina Cup, patrons have never had the opportunity to legally try their luck at the Springdale Race Course. Should the state, against all odds, pass legislation paving the way for state-run gambling, don’t expect to see the immediate construction of betting windows and tote boards at the Knights Hill Road facility.

John Cushman, the interim executive director of the Carolina Cup Races, was an interested party upon hearing the news delivered from the Supreme Court bench Monday. A four-time National Steeplechase Association (NSA) championship jockey, Cushman rode jumpers at tracks in states such as New York in which the public throughout the world had the ability to wager on whether they were physically at the track or, via entities such as Off Track Betting parlors, aka OTB.

“From my perspective,” Cushman said, “it looks like the first thing that has to happen in South Carolina is that the legislature has to pass a law. Just because the Supreme Court says it’s legal in states, the states have to approve it.

“It seems to me that there is a lot of work that has to be done on the state level before it can be considered here. It doesn’t mean that we have the ability to offer pari-mutuel betting. It means that every state has the ability to offer sports betting.

“It’s a great source of tax dollars. It’s interesting.”

With the evolution of social media, wagering on athletic contests, including horse races, is as near as your cell phone. Open an account, provide the requested security information, put some start-up money in the bank and you are off and running; save for states such as South Carolina where placing an 803, 843 or, 864 area code with your information results in your receiving a “request denied” notice stating that your state does not allow online wagering.

Should, however, the S.C. legislature approve state-sponsored gambling, you would be able to log onto horse racing wagering sites such, or, to back a horse which was developed and/or trained in Camden and running at a track anywhere in the world.

What Cushman does not envision, should gambling be permitted in his home state, is for the Carolina Cup to look much different than the way it was on March 31 of this year. The bottom line is, he said, the cost of putting up a permanent facility and renting tote machines does not make fiscal sense for a one day a year race card. 

Wagering on the Camden races, Cushman pointed out, would not be the end-all, be-all to bringing back crowds in excess of 50,000 patrons to Camden on race day each spring.  

“I’m not against (pari-mutuel wagering), I just don’t see it being a huge fundraiser or, a huge money-maker for the Carolina Cup,” said the Camden native.

“If it ever happened in South Carolina and, specifically the Carolina Cup, I would think that there would be an app or, several apps that you could go to that you could place a bet on the Carolina Cup races. It would make no financial sense for us to build pari-mutuel windows in a building, then rent machines and put people in there for a one-day affair. It’s all done electronically, now.”

Should gambling become the norm in South Carolina, what Cushman believes would have to happen in order for people to bet the Carolina Cup card, would be for betting shops to buy the live signal from the races and offer its customers the opportunity to wager on the Camden jump races.

When the NSA circuit runs races at tracks such as Saratoga, Belmont Park and Monmouth Park, bettors have the ability to wager on those chases since states like New York (Saratoga and Belmont) and New Jersey (Monmouth Park) have pari-mutuel wagering on their books.

For a sport such as steeplechasing, which traces its origins to horses and riders competing in an open field and ending the race at a designated destination, Cushman said, it is not a sport built around garnering money from wagering.

“Steeplechasing is a really pure sport, that’s just my opinion,” he said. “If you bring gambling into it, it just changes the sport. The only way to win money (in state which do not offer pari-mutuel wagering) in steeplechasing is by finishing in the first three (race finishers.)”

Cushman went on to say that the Carolina Cup is a stand-alone event which has done quite well without pari-mutuel wagering and still maintains that aura of being the region’s first big outdoor event of the spring. and a chance to renew aquaintances. 

“I have said all along when I was the director, then (from 1990 through 1999) and now, that the Carolina Cup is not about gambling,” Cushman said. “It’s a social event with tailgating and that horse racing happens to be the backdrop for the day.”


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