06/01/06 — Video poker soon will be game of past in state

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Video poker soon will be game of past in state

By Staff and Wire
Published in News on June 1, 2006 1:54 PM

Two local legislators said they are pleased with Wednesday's House decision to ban video poker machines by next summer.

"I thought what the House did was commendable. It gives us some hope for the future," State Sen. Charlie Albertson, said after hearing of the 114-1 vote. Albertson has been one of the leaders of the opposition to video poker.

The bill now heads to the Senate, which has approved a ban five times since 2000.

State Rep. Louis Pate, a co-sponsor of the House measure, said the mood in the House shifted dramatically after revelations of House Speaker Jim Black's involvement with the video-poker industry sparked criticism and an investigation.

Black's campaign accepted $167,000 in video poker industry contributions during the 2002 and 2004 election cycles, making him the industry's top recipient of campaign cash, according to the reform group Democracy North Carolina.

"I think that that opened a way to get the bill passed," he said. "The bill, prior to this time, has never received any reception in the House."

Black denied that he felt pressured because of the state and federal investigations into the gambling industry's practices and political donations.

"What's different for me is that we finally reached an agreement that would give people a chance for up to a year to find a job," Black told reporters after the vote. "I never, ever liked the idea of ... with the stroke of a pen, eliminate 2,000 jobs."

The measure would slowly reduce the number of machines any retailer could operate or a distributor set up at one location from three to none by July 1, 2007. Repeat offenders or those caught with five or more machines would be guilty of a felony.

"I've been convinced, and I think a lot of us have for some time, that there's an awful lot of things going on in the video poker industry that are not quite in keeping with the law," Pate said. "Especially illegal payoffs and things of that nature that are very profitable to some people, but are illegal as far as the law is concerned."

Even the legal games are not good for the state, Pate said.

"There are some people who probably get a lot of pleasure out of going and playing these machines. But I think there are a lot of people who become addicted to them, and spend their good money on a lucid proposition. I know we can't legislate morality, but if the people who own these things have not been following the law, then they ought to be thrown out."

Pate added he believes North Carolina has another gaming industry that ought to be scrutinized.

"Some of these bingo games that are going on around the state, sanctioned by the state," he said. "I don't know if we will this time or not, but I think it's time that we start looking at it. I've heard some talk about some high payoffs."

Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, said he expects his colleagues to accept the House proposal. The Senate is scheduled to consider it today.

The House bill would retain an exception for video gambling machines at the casino run by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, cast the lone dissenting vote, saying he wanted an outright ban instead of what he considered a "face saving" phase-out for Black.

North Carolina legalized video poker machines 13 years ago, but lawmakers agreed to the three-machine limit in 2000 after worries that banned machines from South Carolina would move across the border.

Machines had to be registered with sheriffs and couldn't be replaced once they broke down. Payouts were limited to $10 in merchandise.