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Video poker suffers setbacks in Louisiana, South Carolina

WASHINGTON (BP)–Video poker, a controversial yet common form of gambling in some states, suffered setbacks on two fronts recently.
Nearly 5,000 of Louisiana’s 15,000 video poker machines were shut down as a result of a 1996 referendum taking effect, and the South Carolina legislature approved a proposal that would provide voters an opportunity in November to ban the state’s 34,000 machines. The actions were reported by The New York Times.
In Louisiana, 4,874 machines in 33 parishes were closed down July 1. Voters in those parishes, the equivalent of counties in other states, voted to ban video gambling machines in a referendum that allowed each parish to decide if it wanted to keep them. The state has 64 parishes.
South Carolina has more video gambling machines than any other state. An expensive, aggressive campaign to defeat the attempt to prohibit the machines is expected from the video gambling industry. If voters do not ban video poker, new regulations on the practice will take effect and the state will collect an estimated $180 million a year in taxes from the industry, The Times reported.
Gambling opponents applauded the developments.
Barrett Duke, anti-gambling specialist for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the Louisiana action “a major victory for the people.”
“These electronic bandits have pillaged communities throughout the country,” Duke said. “While no form of gambling is an asset to society, video poker machines represent the very worst of the gambling industry. Louisiana will see near immediate positive benefits in the communities where these machines have been shut down.
“I look forward to the citizens of South Carolina following Louisiana’s lead in November by kicking out the entire video poker menace,” Duke said.
Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion, told The Times, “Today we knocked out more than 4,000 machines and got the opportunity to knock 34,000 more. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Gambling foes have labeled video poker the “crack cocaine” of gambling because of its convenience and addictive nature. The machines are located in convenience stores, gas stations, restaurants and bars in several states, according to the recently released report of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission.
The commission, which released its report in June after a two-year study, was critical of video poker and other forms of convenience gambling. The panel found it created few jobs, including quality jobs, and did not produce a significant investment in the local economy. In its recommendations, the NGISC said convenience gambling should be outlawed in states where it exists, and states without convenience gambling should refuse to introduce it.
In addition to Louisiana and South Carolina, other states that have legalized electronic gambling devices include Montana and Nevada, both with more than 17,000 machines; New Mexico, 6,300 machines; Oregon, nearly 9,000 machines; and South Dakota, 8,000 machines, according to the NGISC report.
While the legislation in South Carolina proved hopeful, it also could be a setback for gambling foes if citizens do not vote out video poker. The maximum jackpot for one sitting was increased from $120 a day to $500, according to The Times. Minors, however, will no longer be allowed to play the machines, The Times reported.
South Carolina’s video gambling industry has become politically powerful in less than a decade. Former Gov. David Beasley sought to rid the state of the machines, calling them “a cancer.” The industry helped bankroll the campaign of Democratic challenger Jim Hodges, who defeated Beasley last year. After the election, USA Today reported its investigation showed gambling contributions “lifted a little-known candidate and his moribund party to victory” in a Republican state. About half of the $6 million spent in the Hodges campaign came from video poker operators, according to USA Today.