By L. A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — A year after Rep. Earl Jones (D-Guilford) filed legislation to welcome video poker back into North Carolina, lawmakers have two more bills introduced that would throw wide open the door to legalized gambling.
Both filed on May 25, the bills came on the heels of a report from the N.C. Education Lottery projecting annual state video poker profits of up to $576 million within four years.
“Our Legislature made it clear in 2006 and again in 2008 that its intent was to ban video poker in all its forms — stand alone machines, server-based games, sweepstakes or whatever they think of next. Any consideration of these bills would be akin to a dog returning to its vomit,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “No pie-in-the-sky revenue projections are worth going back to the corruption and societal problems created by video poker.”
Similar to Jones’ proposal, which won support from the N.C. Black Legislative Caucus and the State Employees Association of North Carolina last summer, House Bill 2030 – Video Gaming Entertainment Act would allow a licensed operator to have up to 500 machines throughout the state, with as many as 10 at one location. Operators would pay an annual fee of $5,000 and $250 per machine. Four percent would go to the Department of Revenue with the rest of the operator fees going to the General Fund and the remainder of machine fees earmarked for the city or county where the games are located. The bill was filed by Mecklenburg County Democrats Kelly Alexander and Nick Mackey.
Senate Bill 1407 – Lottery Commission Regulate Video Poker, introduced by Sen. Julia Boseman (D-New Hanover), would put the games in the domain of the North Carolina Lottery Commission with at least 48 percent of the total annual revenues to go to the Lottery Fund. It would set the same $250 per machine fee but give operators a 10-year permit for their $5,000. Four percent of fees would go to the Lottery Commission and the rest would go to local governments.
Both bills would disallow any games within 50 feet of a church or school and would limit individual wagers to $5 or less. Boseman’s would earmark 40 percent of net revenue for a vocational training program for one high school in each local educational authority; 40 percent for school nutrition programs to provide healthier foods; and 20 percent to the Public School Building Capital Fund.
Consistent with the Lottery Commission’s analysis, her bill would put the games only in establishments with on-premise alcohol permits. The NCEL’s estimates are based on the state’s hosting 21,000 video poker devices in 2,800 locations, with each machine averaging a daily net income of $150. Net revenue is projected at $350 million the first year rising to $576 by year four.
“These are the kind of numbers that turn heads during tight budget years, especially when it is still uncertain whether North Carolina will receive $500 million in expected federal Medicaid funds that may be held up in Washington” said the Rev. Creech.
Both the Senate version of the state budget and the one passed by the N.C. House on Friday are banking on the funds.
“We need to be in prayer for our lawmakers that they will make wise decisions and not be tempted to turn to video gambling for what has been promoted as a quick fix for the budget,” the Rev. Creech said. “The only thing quick about this kind of gambling is how fast it turns players into addicts and robs families of financial stability.”
House Bill 2030 was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary I, from which it would go to the committees on Commerce, Small Business and Entrepreneurship and Finance. Senate Bill 1407 awaits a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee.