SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Video Poker Sure Seems Hard to Kill
It's not over.
A recent N.C. Court of Appeals decision upholding the state's ban on video poker machines doesn't mean that an industry associated with one of the worst political scandals in North Carolina history is going away just yet.
Video poker, after all, is kind of like the villain in a slasher movie. It doesn't matter how many times you shoot it, stab it or toss it from the roof of a building, it always comes back. There is always a sequel, shabbier and more ridiculous than its predecessor.
So court rulings become one shovel blow to the head or one push from a second-story window, allowing only a brief escape from the monster.
Still, the latest decision from a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals could be setting up a final, fatal blow.
The unanimous decision found that a 2006 law banning the machines did not violate machine owners' rights. The owners claimed that an Indian gaming pact allowing the Eastern Band of the Cherokee to operate a casino on its reservation should permit video gambling elsewhere in the state.
The court ruled that the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows states to grant Native American tribes preferential gaming rights as part of an effort to encourage economic development and political stability.
But the ruling overturns just one of two significant lower court decisions that had invalidated the video poker ban.
Another lower court ruling, this one by Guilford County Superior Court Judge John Craig, found that video sweepstakes machines didn't really permit gambling because winners were already predetermined by the cards bought by players in order to play.
Using that same logic, the lottery and even slot machines aren't gambling either.
Craig issued an injunction following his ruling to block any further enforcement of the state law.
The results have been swift. "Sweepstakes machines" can now be found in bars and convenience stores across the state, pulling in the same crowd that once played the old video poker machines.
Some people may wonder why all the fuss regarding these machines. The Cherokees have their casino. The state has its lottery. Why shouldn't the legislature allow video poker across the state?
The simple answer is that the private video gaming industry, operating outside a highly-regulated casino setting, isn't trustworthy.
Before 2006, many machine owners handed out illegal cash payouts to lure customers and boost profits. Former House Speaker Jim Black protected the industry, and that protection helped launch a federal investigation that ultimately led to his imprisonment.
Not long after, former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford went to prison for shaking down and protecting video poker operators.
The same Court of Appeals that just dealt one blow to this resurgent, corrupt industry will soon review Craig's decision. A final death blow may be in the works.
Or perhaps some bizarre sequel looms, with more contorted legal maneuvering that proves red is blue and gambling is actually knitting.
Freddy Krueger is hard to kill.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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