Video poker regulation nearing completion

mlee@macon.comMarch 14, 2013 

Video poker regulation nearing completion

ATLANTA -- By a 2-1 margin, the state Senate says Georgia should regulate video poker and similar gaming machines and channel up to 10 percent of the revenue into the pre-K and HOPE scholarship and grant programs.

Now, state senators and representatives must call a conference committee to reconcile their slightly different versions of the proposal that came from Gov. Nathan Deal’s office.

“This bill makes nothing legal that is not already legal,” said state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, the Senate sponsor of House Bill 487. What it would do is link already legal machines to a central database that tracks how much they are used.

The Georgia Lottery Corp. would administer the system, and it would start by taking 1 percent of net gaming revenues, eventually increasing to 10 percent.

It’s not yet clear how much money will be generated because the money has never been tracked.

The Senate decision came after about three hours of floor debate on a dozen amendments.

One by state Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, would have killed the gaming machines altogether.

“We ought to do away with these things and be done with it,” he said, arguing that the social damage from gambling outweighs the benefits that HOPE provides.

The Senate came close to agreeing with him, but GOP supporters demanded reconsideration and used the time to whip their party into line. On a second try, Williams’ amendment died.

Democrats objected to what they said were loopholes in the bill.

“If we’re going to make the lottery corporation take on this new effort, we ought to give lottery the money to do this,” said state Sen. Jason Carter, D-Decatur.

The Senate accepted his proposal to direct the revenue straight to the lottery corporation rather than passing it through the state’s general bank account, where sometimes cash sticks rather than moving through.

Another amendment mandated that the board-appointed lottery corporation chief executive officer have professional experience.

“Not someone who has a personal relationship with somebody, not someone who is a donor to a campaign,” said state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, as he pushed his ultimately unsuccessful amendment.

Both Democrats and Republicans made noise about dedicating a higher percent of gaming funds to education, but the Senate accepted no change.

State Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, acknowledged that the bill cannot clean up all rogue video poker machine operators. But he argued that the Internet makes it impossible to ban gaming, so “we can get cash in HOPE or we can do nothing.”

The bill would become law upon the governor’s signature. The House and Senate have until the end of their annual session, March 28, to come to an agreement.

To contact writer Maggie Lee, e-mail mlee@macon.com.

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