Georgia prosecutors are giving a suspicious eye to a bill that’s already half-way to becoming law, on the grounds that it might ease the way for the return of video poker to the state – or something like it.
But the author of the House bill, state Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, said his intentions are just the opposite – he wants to “eviscerate” a new form of gambling that has snuck into the state under the cover of “Internet cafes.”
He said he’s ready to discuss any problems with the measure, which is now in the Senate.
HB 164 passed on Crossover Day with a lopsided vote of 166 to 2. But the legislation moved through the House Ways and Means Committee rather than one of the two judiciary committees that prosecutors watch closely — one possible reason for the surprise it has prompted.
The bill allows the state revenue commissioner to levy a $75 licensing fee on coin-operated machines. But it also allows winners of amusement machine games to receive gift cards – redeemable for goods but not cash – of up to $5 per play.
“My understanding is, this is just another way to assist online gambling or video poker,” said Ashley Wright, district attorney for the Augusta Judicial Circuit. “I think everybody is starting to get organized and pay attention to this now.”
Ramsey was clearly surprised by the concern expressed by prosecutors.
Video poker machines, common in many convenience stores across the state, were outlawed in 2001 in a special session of the General Assembly. But another, slightly modified form of gambling has been popping up in cities across the state, including Atlanta.
“The main thrust of the bill is to deal with these Internet sweepstakes cafes that are popping up,” said Ramsey. “One has popped up in my county. They purport to be an Internet café, but they run one sweepstake every second on these computer terminals. It’s tantamount to a slot machine.”
Ramsey said his intention was to “regulate this mini-casino operation out of existence.” He noted that his bill would limit establishments to two machines per site. One café in Fayette County, where Ramsey lives, has 20.
”It’s sort of blanketing the state all of the sudden. The approach seems to be the same in every community. Go to the D.A., try to see the sheriff, see what they tell you they’re going to do, and how much resistance you’re going to get,” Wright said.
Wright said that — acting on her own — she’s in the process of calling her local legislators. We assume that Ramsey is on her list.
“There’s no intention of going backwards on our state’s gaming laws,” the lawmaker said. “In fact it’s just the opposite.”
Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston are reacting cautiously to talk of a legislatively-driven takeover of Atlanta Public Schools.
In interviews with Sandra Parrish of AM750 and now 95.5FM News/Talk WSB, Deal and Ralston specifically addressed a bill just dropped by state Rep. Ralph Long, D-Atlanta, to permit the appointment of school board members by the Atlanta city council, mayor and the governor.
But their comments could also be applied to a separate effort contemplated by Mayor Kasim Reed. Writes Parrish:
Reed admits it is too late in this legislative session to take up the bill, but hopes it could be included in this summer’s special session on redistricting.
Deal is hoping the board will correct its own problems without such intervention.
“I think it’s something that we have given the system the opportunity to correct itself before legislative or constitutional action is taken,” said Deal.
House Speaker David Ralston told Parrish he is not opposed to a takeover, but he doubts that it will happen in this session or even during this summer’s special session on redistricting.
“I think the people of Georgia are ready for us to wrap up this session… they understand we’ll be doing the special session later in the summer, I don’t think they’ll want us to be here until Christmas,” he says.
Newt Gingrich will be making an appearance at the state Republican party convention in May, it was reported Tuesday. But he’s unlikely to be the only presidential presumptive at the Macon meeting. State GOP officials are sounding out other potential candidates as well, to gauge their interest.
This morning’s AJC Politifact measures U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s contention that President Barack Obama’s energy policies responsible for the increase in U.S. gasoline prices.
The city of Atlanta is stewing over the fact that the U.S. Census Bureau measured only a 1 percent gain in population over the last 10 years. But it could be worse, as noted by the New York Times:
Laying bare the country’s most startling example of modern urban collapse, census data on Tuesday showed that Detroit’s population had plunged by 25 percent over the last decade. It was dramatic testimony to the crumbling industrial base of the Midwest, black flight to the suburbs and the tenuous future of what was once a thriving metropolis.
It was the largest percentage drop in history for any American city with more than 100,000 residents, apart from the unique situation of New Orleans, where the population dropped by 29 percent after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said Andrew A. Beveridge, a sociologist at Queens College.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider