The NC House May Not Be So Easy
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Poignant e-mails — many from sweepstakes addicts feeling powerless against their compulsion — played a role in the North Carolina Senate’s decision Monday night to strengthen the state’s ban on video gambling.
Senators voted 47-1 to approve House Bill 80, which, according to the bill’s sponsor, would make “crystal clear” lawmakers’ intent to outlaw video poker and any electronic game that mimics it — from video bingo and craps to keno, lotto, eight liner and pot-of-gold, without affecting legitimate sweepstakes promotions such as those offered by fast food or soft drink marketers. The bill is headed to the House, where it may face stiff opposition.
“We need folks sending e-mails, making phone calls or sending faxes to encourage members of the House to support this ban on video gambling,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “The gaming industry has a very strong lobby already bending their ears, but House members need to hear the other side of the story from people in their own districts, many of whom are experiencing firsthand the detriment of this activity.”
Messages from voters, like the one read by Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake) obviously helped prompt Senators to pass the ban.
“I beg you, please close them down,” read Sen. Stein, from one constituent’s e-mail. “I know we should all have the willpower not to spend our hard-earned money like this, but the truth of the matter is it’s an addiction much like drugs. They make it hard to resist, letting you win enough to keep you coming back, thinking you are going to hit it big.”
“You go in telling yourself you’re going to spend a few dollars,” the e-mail continued. “The machine keeps you winning enough that you pull a little more out of your pocket to keep it hitting. Before you know it, your pockets are empty and the machine has beat you again.”
Sen. William Purcell (D-Scotland) shared an e-mail from the operator of a food pantry in Hamlet who said while visiting a store next door to a sweepstakes parlor, he saw some of the food pantry recipients inside feeding the games.
“They said they hoped they would hit it big and all their troubles would be over,” he wrote. “But most of them just lose money they badly need, and things just get worse. These poker houses are popping up all over our county, and people are making money on the backs of the poor.”
In introducing the bill, Sen. Stein reminded the Senate that the General Assembly outlawed gambling in North Carolina some 220 years ago, specifically prohibited slot machines in 1937 and made video poker illegal with votes in 2000 and 2006. However, he said two superior court rulings had created confusion and tied the hands of law enforcement, allowing a new proliferation of gambling facilities.
“Every week these mini casionos are popping up in strip malls targeted in low-income communities across our state,” he told fellow lawmakers. “The industry itself says that there are some 600 of these casinos in operation in North Carolina. They represent gambling on a massive commercialized scale.”
Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson) said the ban was long overdue.
“When you walk through one of these facilities, you can’t help but be reminded of the old days when you’d go through South Carolina, through the gas stations when they had full-fledged video poker and you’d see people who could least afford it in there gambling and their children out in the car, with 100 degrees temperature,” he said. “This is a scourge…. I will happily vote to ban it.”
Though supportive of the ban, Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg) asked if it were not hypocritical for the state to outlaw video poker but keep its own lottery.
Sen. Stein said he did not support the lottery either, but that sweepstakes were qualitatively worse because of their instant feedback and the frenzied pace that “sucks people in.”
“Sweepstakes casinos are just like a slot machine where you pull that lever, you click that mouse. You win a little, you lose a little; you win a little, you lose more; you win a little, you lose a lot more,” he said. “It feeds that addictive, compulsive behavior.”
Sen. Joe Sam Queen (D-Avery) called sweepstakes operators a “predatory industry that preys on our citizens’ weaknesses.”
The only Senator to oppose House Bill 80 on Monday, Julia Boseman (D-New Hanover) gave a plug to her own bill — S 1407— that would legalize video poker and sweepstakes under the authority of the Lottery Commission, and net an estimated $400 million to $500 million over the next four years for high school vocational programs, school nutrition and public school buildings.
A similar legalization bill in the House — H 2030 — will no doubt be vying for representatives’ attention as they entertain the Senate-approved video poker ban. They will also be under intense pressure from gaming promoters, who claim shutting down the server-based casinos would cost the state more than 7,000 jobs.
But Sen. Queen said the video poker ban is, in fact, “a jobs protection bill.”
“Since we’ve come down here in this session, we have been working in committee after committee to protect and advance jobs for the economy of North Carolina. We’ve been looking out for good jobs, 21st century jobs, advanced manufacturing and innovative clusters, green jobs, sustainable jobs, value adding jobs that build our economy,” he said. “Jobs build North Carolina familes, they build wealth and equity for those families. They build the American dream for our families. Jobs build self-sufficiency.”
On the contrary, he said video poker undermines financial stability.
“Citizens lose their income, the means to support their families. They lose salaries for a week or for a month or their savings. They lose their cars and their homes,” he said. “This does not help our citizens and economy. When we do not help protect our families from a scourge like this, we weaken our economy and shortchange the future of our citizens.”
If the House concurs with the Senate vote, House Bill 80 would take effect Dec. 1.
“Time is short and legislators have much left to do before the session ends, but this bill is too important to neglect,” said the Rev. Creech. “We are asking Christians across the state to contact their representative in the North Carolina House and urge them to pass House Bill 80.”
Take Christian Action: Contact your Representative in the North Carolina House and respectfully ask him/her to remove the scourge of video gambling and its negative consequences from our State. Video gambling is grossly out of step with Christian values. Your Representative needs to hear from you. To contact your Representative click here