State Shouldn't Tolerate More Video Poker
RALEIGH—To his credit, state House Speaker Joe Hackney has generally allowed his caucus, his fellow House Democrats, to decide the direction of legislation in his chamber.
Legislative leaders can sometimes run into trouble when they do otherwise, when they let personal agendas dictate whether a bill will get hearing or vote.
Sometimes, though, the larger public interest demands that chamber leaders get the attention of those whom they lead, that they use some political muscle or expend some political capital to push through measures that divide their caucuses.
Hackney recently made a mistake when he failed on that account. His counterpart in the Senate, Marc Basnight, let him know.
For weeks, House Democrats had been talking about how they would soon put forward legislation intended to ban video poker casinos, now operating under the guise of Internet sweepstakes "cafes."
House Democrats came out of a closed-door caucus meeting doing more talking, and not much acting. Some wanted to legalize and tax the machines. Some wanted to ban them. Some wanted to do nothing at all.
Many of them apparently haven't ridden around their communities lately to see how these unregulated casinos are -popping up in vacated buildings -everywhere. Or, maybe they see dingy video poker parlors as good old economic development. Perhaps opium dens and bordellos can be next. Basnight and his crew of Senate Democrats tired of the talk and tired of waiting.
They rolled out their own bill to ban video poker.
"We will not tolerate this type of exploitation in North Carolina," said bill sponsor Josh Stein, a Wake County Democrat. Stein's old job, before being elected to the Senate, was handling consumer protection at the state attorney general's office.
After approving a lottery earlier this decade, the North Carolina legislature has lost some moral authority regarding gambling. But obvious differences exist between trying to match numbers on a piece of paper and feeding money into a flashing, whizzing machine for hours on end. And legislators have already banned these machines twice.
It's only the actions of activist judges with little respect for legislative authority or intent - and little regard for the -practical effect of their decisions - that have allowed the casinos. Still, fools garbed in black robes are no excuse for the elected representatives of the people of North Carolina to ignore their responsibilities.
Unregulated casinos can't be allowed to proliferate unchecked.
Before the end of the week, the Senate will probably have approved its bill banning the casinos. The legislation, responding to the court decisions, tightens definitions regarding what type of operations are illegal.
The House will then be on the spot.
Perhaps a few of its members will remember what happened the last time they flirted with the video poker industry.
Just a reminder: An FBI investigation ensued; an unprecedented political scandal unfolded; a House speaker went to prison.
No reason to worry about any of that.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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