Local Politics

Lawmaker wants to deal state in on video poker

Posted April 22, 2009 6:28 p.m. EDT
Updated April 22, 2009 6:55 p.m. EDT

— A state lawmaker filed a bill Wednesday that would legalize video poker in North Carolina and deal 20 percent of profits from the machines into state coffers.

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

The machines hold a tarnished place in 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.

Still, the games served as a staple for convenience stores and players.

Rep. Earl Jones, D-Guilford, the sponsor of House Bill 1537, said the state already is in the gaming business by running the North Carolina Education Lottery, so he sees no problem in having the Department of Revenue license and regulate video poker machines in return for a cut of the profits.

"Video poker is no different than the lottery, no worse than the lottery," Jones said. "Video poker would also generate about over $100 million a year in revenue."

With the state facing a projected $3 billion budget deficit for the fiscal year that starts in July, some lawmakers are intrigued by the idea of a new revenue stream. But legislative leaders said they wouldn't bet on Jones' bill passing.

"If we can eliminate (the games), we're probably better off, and hopefully we can keep it that way," Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger said.

Superior Court Judge Howard Manning tossed out North Carolina's video poker ban two months ago, saying the state couldn't allow the games in the Cherokee casino while outlawing them elsewhere. The state has appealed the decision, and the ban remains in place pending a ruling by a higher court.