Even though Aiken County was one of 12 South Carolina counties, out of 46, that voted to kick video poker out of its jurisdiction in a 1994 referendum, the courts have continued to shove video poker down the county's throat.
So wouldn't it be ironic if Aiken must accept the kind of gambling it doesn't want (video poker), while being denied the kind of wagering it does want -- pari-mutuel betting? The call for horse wagering legislation received unanimous support from the Aiken City Council recently. As City Councilman Mike Anaclerio correctly points out, "People have been talking about pari-mutuel betting for years, and this is clearly the time to look into it."
After all, if the state's high court has ruled video poker legal, why not horse race wagering? In contrast to video poker, which research shows is the "crack-cocaine" of gambling, especially for middle- and lower-income groups, track betting attracts a wealthier, less-addicted, more fun-loving clientele.
In fact, it has been known for years that pari-mutuel betting would mean added popularity to a county hosting spring and fall steeplechases and the famed Triple Crown. Although informal wagering goes on at these events, the official betting ban keeps them from reaching the stature of, say, the Kentucky Derby.
Aiken area lawmakers, taking note of the Council's vote, will be looking into pari-mutuel legislation in the upcoming session. State Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken, says he believes the wagering should be legalized if the city wants it.
We agree the people's consent should be sought before moving forward, and that could be achieved if the General Assembly approved enabling legislation to allow local option referendums on pari-mutuel betting. If Aiken voters have to choke down video poker, they ought certainly be permitted to allow horse-race wagering if they want it.
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