SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Video Park Making a Comeback in State? -- Don't Bet on It
Desperate times call for desperate measures. They don't call for insane measures.
Given North Carolina's experience with video poker, a decision to make the games legal again would amount to insanity.
Yet supporters of video poker are offering up the game as a means for state government to negotiate itself out of its budget woes. A House committee might even hear a bill filed by Rep. Earl Jones, a Guilford County Democrat, to legalize the gaming three years after the state banned it.
Jones' bill would provide for electronic monitoring of each video poker machine and allow the state to get 20 percent of the take. Bob Hall, the man who documented the video poker industry's ties to imprisoned former House Speaker Jim Black, had an interesting take on the proposal: "They should add legalized prostitution and heroin trafficking and tax them."
Legalizing opium dens or repealing of child labor laws might also provide a quick economic boost.
Of course, the folks behind this effort to bring video poker back don't quite see it this way.
They say the machines aren't much different from the lottery operated by the state. Brad Crone, a consultant working for the businesses, says legalizing the machines could bring in $480 million each year to the state, money sorely needed right now.
Video poker supporters also have on their side a couple of court decisions throwing into dispute the state's authority to outlaw the machines.
Those court decisions and the state's financial straits don't change the history of video poker in North Carolina.
The state never allowed cash payouts from the machines. Yet it wasn't hard to conclude that large numbers of the machines were being operated illegally, that cash payouts were being made.
The industry wasn't generating millions in profits by offering tiny stuffed animals as prizes. It wasn't throwing large contributions Black's way by inducing players with trinkets.
The illegality was documented in arrests across the state. In Buncombe County, Sheriff Bobby Medford was sent to federal prison for 15 years for his part in protecting and extorting money from video poker operators.
Before Black was sent to prison, several video poker operators and their employees were called to testify before the state Board of Elections. Convenience store clerks who had never met Black and didn't live close to his Mecklenburg County legislative district told incredulous board members about their decision to give $2,000 or $3,000 to the former House speaker's campaign. Many didn't make much more than minimum wage.
Chipp Bailey, sheriff of Black's home county, said earlier this year, in response to one of those unfavorable court rulings: "Video poker in North Carolina is run by organized crime, period. It has been and will be again if they let it back in."
Despite the renewed push by supporters, the likelihood of it being "let back in" appears slim. Not everyone has such a short memory.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at email@example.com.
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