Rep. Earl Jones (D-Guilford) advocates for bringing back video gambling machines
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Forget all the trouble that video poker brought to North Carolina before it was banned two years ago and welcome it back as a revenue producer and job generator — that was the message peddled to the House Judiciary II Committee by Rep. Earl Jones (D-Guilford) Tuesday. Fortunately, he seemed to get little support for House Bill 1537, the Video Gaming Entertainment Act, for which he is the sole sponsor.
Arguing that the approval of the lottery in 2005 and two legal rulings challenging the video poker ban had changed the political landscape in North Carolina, Jones said video poker would bring in some $480 million annually, with half to go to needy schools and the other into the general fund.
“Certainly everyone here would agree the economic times have changed and that’s the primary reason for the consideration of this legislation,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, Executive Director of the Christian Action League, who also addressed the committee. “Nevertheless, we must never forget that though the times have changed, the nature of video poker has not.”
Creech reminded lawmakers of the highly addictive nature of the game which has led to social and economic problems for gamblers, their families and communities. He talked about the tax dollars law enforcement had to spend on undercover stings as well as the fact that the Tar Heel state’s earlier round of video poker lay at the heart of “significant government corruption and scandal.”
Rep. Jones, who voted for the video poker ban, now blames the game’s prior problems on poor public policy and said putting it in the hands of the Department of Revenue — which would collect $5,000 in fees from operators every 10 years and $200 per machine annually, in addition to 20 percent of proceeds — would eliminate any controversy.
Chase Brooks, a representative of the Entertainment Group of North Carolina, told the committee that video gaming would create 5,000 to 10,000 new jobs and save another 25,000 positions in stores more likely to keep staff if they had poker machines.
“We want to remove this cloud from our industry,” he said. “We want taxation; we want regulation; we want complete oversight.”
Entertainment Group of North Carolina is the new name for the N.C. Amusement Machine Association (NCAMA), whose former lobbyist was accused of paying Rep. Jim Black $500,000 to stifle attempts to ban video poker in 2000. Records show Black received more than $200,000 in recorded campaign contributions from video-poker operators and NCAMA PAC during the 2000 to 2004 elections. The former Speaker of the House went to prison seven years later on an unrelated charge of public corruption. He was not the only official to get tangled up with the industry. Former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford is serving a 15-year sentence for taking bribes from video poker operators.
But Rep. Jones not only dismissed the potential for corruption in the industry but implied that since North Carolina’s ban has come under legal fire, we might as well get ready to welcome the game back and take advantage of revenues.
In February, Judge Howard Manning ruled that the state could not prohibit the machines in the rest of the state while allowing the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to operate the same games under a compact approved via the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. He stayed his ruling while the case goes to the N.C. Court of Appeals, which Rep. Jones said may rule by early next year. More recently, another court ruling has kept law enforcement from enforcing the ban. And some video poker operators have already been skirting the rules by offering a sweepstakes-based computer system tied into a remote server.
Throughout Tuesday’s discussion, Rep. Jones pushed the idea that video poker was no more addictive than the lottery. Others were not convinced.
“People sit there all day doing this. It is different from the lottery…,” said Rep. Pat Hurley (R-Randolph). “To spend all there … spend all of your money and all of your time.”
“The machines suck people into the screen,” Professor William Thompson from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, told “Slate” magazine. “You don’t talk or socialize. You don’t trade stories. It is different from blackjack or even handle slots. These are the most addictive of any gambling instrument we have today.”
According to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission Report, Robert Hunter, a psychologist who specializes in problem gambling, says the game’s “rapid pace (an experienced player can play 12 hands a minute), the ability to play for long periods of time, and the mesmerizing effect of music and rapidly flashing lights,” all play a role in its attraction.
“Let’s not forget the insidious nature of video poker,” said the Rev. Creech. “North Carolina’s hope for sustaining its needs is not in some promise of treasure, but instead as our national motto on every coin admonishes, ‘In God We Trust.’ And we also have faith in the richness of our people’s character.”
Read Rev. Creech’s speech before the Committee by clicking here