News - Should video poker be banned in Georgia?

Yes. Barnes and the Legislature should outlaw video poker and tell machine owners to prey on the desperate and downtrodden someplace else

gambling snuck into Georgia in the dead of night on a ragtag fleet of trucks with South Carolina plates.

There was no up-or-down vote by the Legislature, no statewide referendum, no public debate whatsoever. Absent any such approval, it should be sent packing.

When South Carolina banned video poker last year, machine owners didn't wait for an invitation to come south. They just invaded, erecting cinderblock casinos and scattering machines in quickie marts, bait shacks and junk shops across Georgia.

Yes, gambling for money outside the lottery is still illegal, technically. Trouble is, over the last decade, a bunch of bossed-and-bought state legislators created a set of loopholes large enough to drive Caesar's Palace through. (OK, almost large enough.)

Today, video poker pushers are free to manipulate machine odds at will and distribute winnings as gift certificates or merchandise. They are also exempt from sales tax and can even keep their identities secret. No fooling.

And most operators are openly flouting the law against cash payments, confident they won't be caught or punished.

Stung by bad publicity, poker pushers say it's not the "games" that are a problem, but a few unscrupulous owners. But that's not so. If these were mere amusements, not gambling devices, there wouldn't be a problem. No one ever blew the rent playing Skee-Ball.

Gov. Roy Barnes and state GOP leaders agree on the need to take action against video poker. "I do not like this business," Barnes told the Journal-Constitution, "[It's] like a cancer."

Now you might think Barnes, as head cheerleader for the Georgia Lottery, would be an unlikely crusader against commercial gambling, but think again. After all, he has a lot to lose if video poker starts siphoning big bucks away from the lottery and its hallowed HOPE scholarship.

In its ubiquity, the lottery is actually worse than video poker. It's everywhere: On our radios and TVs. In our stores and bars. And while the state's imprimatur gives it a critical sheen of respectability, the lottery is still just a glossy shell game designed to take people's money.

But that's another column. For now, it is enough to count King Roy among those opposing video poker. This summer, Barnes and the Legislature should outlaw video poker and tell machine owners to prey on the desperate and downtrodden someplace else.

We have the lottery to do that here.??

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