Moderated by Tom Sabulis
The passage of House Bill 487 moves the regulation of coin-operated gaming machines from the Department of Revenue to the Georgia Lottery, with revenue going to help fund the HOPE scholarship. The legislation will eliminate illegal, untaxed underground machines at convenience stores, writes the chief of a statewide trade group. But putting an official imprimatur on gambling of any sort places the state on a slippery slope, says a Christian group that cites the lottery’s expanding array of games and their impression on children.
Commenting is open.
By Jim Tudor
“Convenience-store casino” was a catchy phrase coined by the media, usually in the context of a story regarding the seizure of coin-operated machines that were being used illegally.
There are more than 6,500 convenience stores in Georgia that provide employment for more than 70,000 of our citizens. The vast majority are operated lawfully. Convenience stores are an integral part of the communities they serve and are the primary source of sales made to support the Georgia Lottery and its HOPE scholarships.
Yet for all the good we seek to accomplish, the “casino” stereotype has been blight on our image as an industry.
For that reason alone, the passage of House Bill 487, which regulates video poker games and provides additional revenue to the lottery, was long overdue.
For years, members of the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores have been asking for relief from the state to curb illegal activities — the paying of cash — associated with video games found in certain stores. Retailers who “played by the rules” found themselves having to compete with rogue operators who were pocketing unreported, and untaxed, income from such activities. Prices on items on which we do compete — fuel, tobacco, etc. — were often artificially influenced by these under-the-counter profits.
For those who claim passage of HB 487 will increase gambling in Georgia, I have a counter argument: I believe the number of machines will actually decrease.
As someone who has been involved in convenience-store retailing for more than 37 years, I can attest that the passage of HB 487 will reduce profits for many retailers who have operated such machines illegally.
The legislation will provide law enforcement with something that they have always lacked – machine activity data – that will help them better utilize their resources to zoom in on suspects. Let’s face it: If four machines in a town are averaging a couple hundred dollars a week in activity, and another is averaging a couple thousand, where would you concentrate your attention? That has been a major enforcement challenge to date: knowing where to look.
HB 487 provides real data, as the machines must be connected to a modem that will transmit activity data to the Georgia Lottery Corp. and, as necessary, to law enforcement. Retailers whose livelihood is undergirded by illegal activity may also be reduced along with the machines involved.
We applaud Gov. Nathan Deal for taking the lead in promoting this overdue action to rein in activities associated with the illegal operation of video game machines. The machines that remain will be monitored and, for the first time, provide a source of income for the lottery.
Simply stated, with the passage of HB 487 and the targeted support of law enforcement, we can hopefully remove “convenience-store casino” from the public vernacular.
Jim Tudor is president of the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores.
By Jerry Luquire
The popular network news broadcaster Linda Ellerbee signs off her newscasts with four words that can insult, enlighten, bring a laugh or infuriate. Her closing, “And so it goes…” came to mind when I learned that gambling had again won the hearts, votes and money of too many Georgians — including Gov. Nathan Deal, who had run on a campaign saying he did not support expanding gambling.
Amazing the changes 1,000 days can bring.
In House Bill 487, which gives a green light to video gambling on a statewide database, Gov. Deal discovers a gambling measure he does favor and will sign. He explains his flip-flop with the expected defense: Too much bad information was put out about that bill.
Governor, the Georgia Christian Coalition just told the truth; falsehoods were not needed to oppose this bill.
The primary gift to gamblers in the new video gambling bill is that it makes slot machine-appearing games legal. They can pay off in prizes from the store or lottery tickets — but no cash. To make certain this provision for cashless gambling is strictly observed, the Georgia Lottery Commission has been given responsibility for enforcement, which means its army of law folk must arrest lawbreakers who are doing their best to make more revenue for the commission. Fox, meet hen house?
Remember a few years ago when Georgians first said yes to a simple lottery ticket sale? Just a roll of tickets, one dollar each. Not even sales tax could be charged. Now, entire sections of the stores have been given over to lottery offerings. “Scratch off” has been added to our lexicon.
So what is really wrong with more gambling? No discussion is needed about the moral issue or wasted lives excessive gambling creates. What’s wrong with neighborhood gamblers sitting on six stools in your local store sending their money to Atlanta where one day maybe a dime of each dollar goes to education?
Not one cent of that dollar is spent as tax or local purchase. It takes sales tax from 20 people to replace every dollar those cash-devouring machines grab from your local economy. Those millions of dollars to the lottery are from someone’s local pocket and unpaid tax.
However, not all is gloom. Those in the business of gambling have decided to not bet on horse or dog racing coming to Georgia. The space will be more profitable for “Family Fun Centers” featuring kiddie fun near video poker and other games of first skill, then chance.
Gamblers are the most optimistic people. They must be, knowing the odds are against them in any gambling venture. So they prepare for tomorrow’s customers by making sure young folks feel at home around gambling, and seeing Mom and Dad dropping money in machines. Much more visual than purchasing pieces of cardboard.
At least in casinos, those under 18 are not admitted. Not so at your local gambling store. The future is watching. The machines are flashing.
Jerry Luquire is president of the Georgia Christian Coalition.