See the proponents’ television ad on video poker and then read the truth
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Rep. Earl Jones (D-Guilford) sounds a bit like a broken record these days, touting what he sees as the benefits of video poker and his belief that the gambling machines could heal the state’s ailing budget.
With endorsements last week from the Black Legislative Caucus and the State Employees Association of North Carolina, Jones and the Entertainment Group of North Carolina have ramped up their push for legalizing the games, which they say could bring $480 million to state coffers. Rep. Nelson Cole (D-Rockingham) and others who oppose cigarette and beer tax increases also joined the cause.
“This push for video poker is a growing menace that I’m afraid is being underestimated,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. “Even though House Bill 1537 received scant support this year, as long as our State struggles with a revenue shortfall, the more likely lawmakers are to entertain these promises of great profits and perhaps forget the State’s history with video poker and all the pain and societal costs it brings with it.”
That part of the issue you won’t hear in Jones’ mantra. Comparing the state’s needs to the Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “We Can’t Wait” manifesto, Jones told fellow members of the House this week the elderly, school children, state employees and college students are among those who “can’t wait” for government services that are in danger of being cut unless, he says, North Carolina welcomes back video poker and channels 20 percent of its proceeds into the State budget.
Echoing his theme is the Entertainment Group of North Carolina (formerly the N.C. Amusement Machine Association or NCAMA), which is sponsoring TV ads and a Web site to promote the return of what sociologists have called the “crack cocaine of gambling.” Among the group’s arguments are the fact that, despite the 2006 ban, some machines are in operation as a result of legal loopholes and pending judicial rulings that say the State can’t allow the games on the Cherokee lands and prohibit them elsewhere. The group also claims to be eager for taxation and regulation.
What its Web site doesn’t feature is the checkered past of NCAMA, whose former lobbyist was accused of paying Rep. Jim Black $500,000 to stifle attempts to ban video poker in 2000. Records show that before the former Speaker of the House was imprisoned for public corruption, Black received more than $200,000 in campaign contributions from video-poker operators and NCAMA PAC during the 2000 to 2004 elections.
Nor do Jones and the gaming promoters address video poker’s addictive nature, the fact that studies show African Americans are more adversely affected by the games than other population groups, or the societal and economic costs taxpayers would eventually bear.
“We are urging legislators to look beyond the gaming industry claims to see what this type of gambling has done in North Carolina in the past and is doing now in other places,” Creech said. “It is not a pretty picture.”
Oregon legalized video poker in 1993 and as of February 2009 reported 12,260 machines in more than 2,360 businesses. They also reported that 75,000 adult Oregonians have been identified as either problem or pathological gamblers with another 1,000 to 6,000 adolescents facing severe gambling-related difficulties. During the first four years of video poker the number of Gambler’s Anonymous chapters in Oregon went from three to more than 30, and some 64 percent of problem gamblers who sought treatment said their game of preference was video poker.
The average gambling debt among those in Oregon seeking treatment for their addiction in 2007-2008 was $22,000. Some 48 percent of them reported having suicidal thoughts and almost 30 percent admitted to committing crimes to obtain gambling money.
Bottom line, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services, the social-economic cost of problem gamblers is estimated to be in excess of $449 million. Plus, the agency said residents of Oregon lost $1.6 billion on gambling in 2006, about $434 per adult.
“It’s lose, lose for the taxpayer,” said John Kindt, professor of Business Administration at the University of Illinois. “While advocates of legalized gambling say it brings in revenues needed for education and other uses, it actually has led to higher taxes, loss of jobs, economic disruption of non-gambling businesses, increased crime and higher social welfare costs.”
While proponents insist that “there’s real money on the table and the legislature needs to take a look at it,” there’s a lot more than revenue that comes along with video poker.
“We urge Christians not to take this talk of video poker lightly. Even though the General Assembly has pretty much wrapped up the long session for this biennium, we need to sound the alarm on this issue and between sessions constituents need to contact their lawmakers and insist they keep video poker out of North Carolina,” said the Rev. Creech. “We can’t let these difficult financial times push us in the direction of more legalized gambling.”
VIDEO POKER AD CLAIMS vs. THE WHOLE TRUTH
Ad claim: “How can the State raise money without raising taxes? By regulating video gaming.”
Whole truth: Video poker proponents who say the games would bring in $480 million aren’t counting the costs of addiction and other societal problems. Economic research shows that for every $1 of revenue there are $3 in related costs.
Ad claim: “A superior court judge has already ruled it is unconstitutional to give gaming rights to the Cherokee and not to the entire state.”
Whole truth: Superior Court Judge Howard Manning stayed his ruling while the state Attorney General takes the case to the N.C. Court of Appeals, where it may be overturned. North Carolina lawmakers made clear their intent to ban video poker in 2006 and unless the Appeals Court upholds Manning’s ruling, the legislative ban stands.
Ad claim: Video lottery terminals will generate up to $480 million a year.
Whole truth: There are no guarantees about how much money will be collected. According to Oregon Public Radio, weekly video poker revenue in that state is down 20 percent this year. Furthermore, if $480 million goes to state coffers, that means more than $2.4 billion must come out of citizens’ pockets and go into video poker machines.
Ad claim: Accountability. Oversight. Regulation. And Taxation on video gaming.
Whole truth: North Carolina had very little success in overseeing video gaming between 1993 and 2006 while it was legal. Despite attempts to hold the industry accountable and regulate it by limiting numbers of machines and pay-outs, corruption was rampant. Sheriffs in every county supported the video poker ban and one former sheriff went to prison for taking bribes. That corruption was also felt in the highest offices of State government.
Ad claim: State controlled, state registration, local property taxes, and it will help boost local businesses and jobs all over North Carolina.
Whole truth: While the ad shows a police officer when it says “State controlled,” Rep. Earl Jones (D-Guilford) has made it clear that his bill (House Bill 1537) would keep video poker out of the realm of law enforcement and put it strictly in the hands of the Department of Revenue. As for creating jobs, economists say for every three machines, the surrounding economy loses two jobs because people are dumping their money into gambling. According to John Kindt, economics professor at the University of Illinois, “Gambling drains the economy by taking money away from grocery stores and retail businesses and putting it in the hands of an industry that produces no product.”