Local Politics

Deficit could give video poker operators chance to ante up

Posted May 29, 2009

— Two years after lawmakers forced the video poker industry to fold in North Carolina, gaming operators see the growing budget deficit as a chance to deal themselves back into the game.

The Entertainment Group of North Carolina, a coalition of video gaming businesses, is launching a television ad campaign this weekend to build momentum for bringing back the games.

Video poker machine generic Video poker operators play new hand

"There's real money on the table and the legislature needs to take a look at it," said Brad Crone, a consultant to the group.

Video poker machines hold a tarnished place in state history. Sheriffs loathed them because they had a hard time policing illegal payouts to players, and an investigation into former House Speaker Jim Black's ties to the industry eventually brought him down on public corruption charges.

The General Assembly voted three years ago to phase out the games by July 2007. The legislation exempted the video gambling machines at the casino run by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in western North Carolina.

A judge tossed out the video poker ban in February, ruling the state couldn't allow the games in the Cherokee casino while outlawing them elsewhere. But the ban remains in place while the state appeals the decision.

Crone said North Carolina doesn't get a cut from video poker on the Cherokee reservation, but putting the machines back in convenience stores could generate needed revenue for the state.

"If you legislate video gaming in North Carolina and tax it (at) 20 percent, you could generate $480 million," he said.

He said that money could eliminate the need to furlough state workers or shorten the public school calendar – remedies to the budget deficit floated by Gov. Bev Perdue and lawmakers.

Chris Fitzsimon, director of North Carolina Policy Watch, a progressive think tank, said he's disturbed by talk of video poker returning, especially the possibility of legitimizing the games by letting the North Carolina Education Lottery control them.

"Putting video poker in the lottery, I can't think of anything worse for the people of North Carolina," Fitzsimon said. "It's amazing to me at this time (that) one of our solutions would be to prey on people to raise money instead of raising taxes honestly and making budget cuts."

Lottery Executive Director Tom Shaheen said he has no official opinion on adding video poker to the lottery.

Rep. Earl Jones, D-Guilford, filed a bill two months ago to legalize video poker and cut the state in for 20 percent of profits from the machines. House Bill 1537 never made it out of committee, and the idea faces stiff legislative opposition.

Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand said he opposes bringing video poker back – with or without lottery supervision.

Some store operators also said the cash they would make from video poker isn't worth the trouble.

"It's not a good idea," said Aref Peroz, who runs Peace Street Market in Raleigh. "There's no room for extra people to stand around gambling all day long."

8 Comments

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  • Boogalooboy May 29, 7:17 p.m.

    blatant descrimination, no reason the reservations should be able to do this.....and no one else... use to put a buck into them myself but left them alone...I actually saw people beg for loans from others to continue playing...and I'm with Harvey, let's tax prostitution and require health exams...oh yeah, let tax the weed as well... the economy should staighten out shortly.. let's see is there other weaknesses that folks have that we can take advantage of.....hmmmmmm

  • kholl852 May 29, 7:09 p.m.

    Forget about the taxes being raised. If the state cared about your morals,health,lifestyle they would keep video gambling banned and also ban the sale of cigaretts and alcohol in all of NC. But wait a minute? It really is all about the $$$$ and not you.

  • Navaho1 May 29, 7:04 p.m.

    I do not see how the government has a right to make a moral judgement for me. You know poker is very popular in this state - in 15 min I can be at a table playing..... so when the population doesn't care - why not tax it and save our economy. Now if the politicians had the courage to face the Baptist preachers....

  • kholl852 May 29, 7:01 p.m.

    Forget about the tax benefits. If the government really cared about your morals,health,lifestyle they would keep video poker banned and also ban cigarette and alcohol sales in NC. But wait, it is all about the $$$$$$$$

  • ncwebguy May 29, 6:19 p.m.

    Why isn't the state taxing the machines (and the poker room, and slots, and bingo) at Cherokee? I understand the "tribal heritage/religious" protected aspect of gambling, but do not see how that extends to video poker, etc.

    It should be taxed at 25%, with 60% of that (15% of gross) going directly to the law enforcement agency/agencies that will have to enforce the rules. The rest going to the education funds *AND* legislation would be passed to make all lottery funds untransferrable.

    That would increase employment by law agencies, the machine operators, and maybe require software to be made by companies in NC to create new games.

    The state did not take away the video poker terminals, only making them illegal for cash payouts.

    Why should no one else be allowed to have a video poker game just because Peace Street doesn't have the room for one? They could easily make room between the register and the front window where they used to have arcade games.

  • Harvey May 29, 6:17 p.m.

    With that logic, let's legalize prostitution and drugs. Both would also bring huge money to the state.

  • now thats funny stuff May 29, 6:15 p.m.

    They should put it on public ballot

  • Tax Man May 29, 6:10 p.m.

    I still do not understand how NC could "outlaw" a legitimate business without have to pay the video poker owners for "taking" their property without due compensation? If people want to play and it is legal at the reservation, then businesses should be allowed to do it! Put it under control of the Lottery and let the games begin - the state needs the money - just keep Perdue from stealing it from the schools! If someone wants to gamble they will do it legally or otherwise. Legally the state gets to tax and regulate it. You can play online legally so why not keep the $$$$ in our state?