I am naturally suspicious of people who use phrases like "call to action." It's one of those marketeer phrases that makes me cringe. That said, if you are a South Carolina poker player or one who travels here to play in some of the best home games around, you should be interested in this. Moreover, if you live in Greenville, South Carolina and don't join me on Monday night, you don't care about poker and your right to play it.
Monday March 30 at 5:30pm, South Carolina Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell will be holding two public hearings on a bill that would legalize home poker games and also expand charity gaming (including charity poker tournaments) in South Carolina.
I will be there and you should be, too.
Every Monday night I play in the best home game I've ever known. The action is great, the location is perfect, and the players are great people. The game has been running for years and shows no signs of dying off. There are games like it all over the state--friendly folks who just want to play cards in a safe environment.
Under South Carolina law, local law enforcement could come in at any time and cite every player for violating the state's gaming law. That we've never been raided is no great comfort. Even though this is a friendly game where the only rake goes to pay for drinks and snacks, it is still illegal. And if you think the local constabulary won't bust a game of this sort, you are sadly mistaken.
Last month I covered the trial of five people who were playing in a $20 max-buy no-limit hold'em game in Mt. Pleasant. The max rake on the game was 50 cents and the house owner, according to several people who testified, stopped taking rake the moment he had enough to cover the pizza and beer. The players were put on trial and, despite the magistrate's obvious distaste for the law, convicted. [See the April issue of Bluff Magazine for my article on the trial.]
A few years back, I held what was then my annual Bradoween poker tournament. It was not a huge affair. We had 43 people from around the country in town and crowded into my small house. The buy-in was insignificant and I charged no juice. People from other states laughed at me when I took the buy-in cash to my neighbor's house and left it there. They laughed harder when I programmed my police scanner to listen for a raid and put a couple friends outside to watch the door.
If I had watched myself that day, I might have laughed, too. It was ridiculous. It was a game among friends that wasn't even charging for the BBQ and sweet tea. Still, if the raid on a similar game in Greer (a nearby suburb) a couple months before was any indication, I stood an uncomfortable chance of getting busted. It had happened to one of my friends just weeks before. He'd been playing in a similar game and had been handcuffed in front of his wife and kids.
To people in less-antiquated states, this probably seems inconceivable. The simple fact i this: playing any game with cards or dice in South Carolina (read: Monopoly, bridge, poker, etc) is illegal.
President Pro Tempore Glenn F. McConnell, a Republican from Charleston County, wants to change that. His bill would decriminalize social gambling (including poker) in a private homes where no rake is taken. It would also allow for charity poker tournaments for churches and charities like the Lions and Elks Clubs.
Opponents of the bill suggest that opening the door to kitchen table poker is the equivalent of opening up the state border to the likes of MGM and Harrah's casinos. Nothing could be farther from the truth. You can read the full text of the bill HERE. The language is specific, more restrictive than even I would like, and would in no way allow for casinos in the Palmetto State.
All of the above is to say nothing of the rampant hypocrisy surrounding the debate. South Carolina is a lottery state. The South Carolina Education Lottery program is lauded by many of the same people who fight against decriminalizing home poker games. It's nearly impossible to go to a convenience store or turn on a TV without seeing an ad for South Carolina scratch-off tickets or Powerball jackpots. Make no mistake: South Carolina is, in fact, a gambling state, as long as the state is taking the rake.
McConnell held a hearing on his bill in Charleston last week. If news reports are to be believed, the pro-poker crowd outnumbered the anti-poker folks by 20-1. The Greenville hearing could be a lot different. The Upstate of South Carolina is a great deal more conservative than the Midlands and Low Country. In the past, I've seen giant protests over similar issues.
Even the legislators are worried about bringing the issue to Greenville. Said Senator Robert Ford to Charleston poker players, "Y'all get a couple of buses. I'm always afraid of Greenville on these kinds of issues."
It's my hope that we won't need Charleston poker players to defend our rights to play in Greenville. I know there are hundreds of poker enthusiasts in the Upstate who care about this issue. The question is, do you care enough to show your support in public? You don't have to speak. You don't even have to give your name. You only have to show up. It won't take but a couple hours out of your day.
I know poker is a solitary pursuit, but the battle to legalize it is not. Don't be the kind of player who complains but does nothing to remedy the situation. If you don't show up, don't complain about the law. When you finally have Republicans and Democrats agreeing something needs to be done about the antiquated South Carolina gambling laws, you know it's time to give just a little bit of yourself.
So, you coming?
Monday, March 30th
Greenville County Council Chambers
301 University Ridge
Greenville, SC 29601
The South Carolina Poker Players Alliance is trying to get a good idea on who might come. If you'd like to RSVP for the hearing, you can do so HERE.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment here or send them to my e-mail address: rapideyereality -- @ -- gmail dot com