N.C.'s Easley Signs Video Poker Ban

Will harm small businesses, opponents say

RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina Governor Mike Easley has signed a bill that bans all video poker machines in the state by July 2007, reported the Wilmington Morning Star.

Law enforcement officials said that they hope the legislation will deal a fatal hand to video poker gaming, while owners of registered machines say they were unfairly targeted.

A spokesperson for the North Carolina Amusement Machine Association, which has about 130 members across the state, said that in an effort to remove lawbreakers, county sheriffs and politicians [image-nocss] went after legitimate businesses. "We think we've been lumped together with the illegal people and just to get rid of that problem, they got rid of us, Richard Frye told the newspaper.

In 2000, sheriffs in the state's 100 counties were given the responsibility of keeping track of legally registered video poker machines. The North Carolina Sheriff's Association has since been a driving force to get the law passed. "The association has been asking for a total ban on video poker machines since 2000 and is grateful that this year's General Assembly has enacted legislation that will ban video poker machines. The association has opposed video poker because of the illegal gambling involved in their operation and the ban will remove that problem," Eddie Caldwell, Sheriff's Association executive vice president and general counsel, told the paper.

Frye said some law-abiding machine owners will suffer financially. "It is not going to accomplish anything besides knocking a big dent in small businesses in North Carolina.

He owns 33 video poker machines located in restaurants and bars. "You don't get rich, but people like to play them," he said. "There is somebody playing all the time, so it adds up."

Frye said illegal video poker machines will continue to operate while owners of registered machines may lose as much as 40% of their business revenue and be forced to lay off employees, incurring an estimated $235 million in annual losses. "They're penalizing the people who operate correctly and pay taxes and rewarding the people who operate illegally," he said.

Current state law only allows for prizes of merchandise valued up to $10. Some machines are modified so cash payouts can be made. In 2005, nearly 550 video poker machines were legally registered in Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender counties. As many as 10,000 machines are registered statewide. Another 10,000 illegal video poker machines may be raking in money in North Carolina, by some estimates.

Thousands of video poker machines were imported from South Carolina after the game was banned there, authorities said. Frye said opposition to video poker came primarily from sheriffs in border counties.

The bill signed by the governor retained an exception for video gambling machines at the casino run by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, added an Associated Press report.

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