Originally created 12/20/96

More limits sought on video poker



AIKEN - There might not be a lot of room for video poker in Aiken County.

The Aiken County Planning Commission recommended 6-2 on Thursday that the county increase restrictions on the machines, including limiting the games to areas zoned UD and keeping them 150 feet from neighboring properties.

The proposal is a significantly tougher approach than a zoning change recommended by the Aiken County Council on Tuesday, which included only the 150-foot setbacks.

"We're concerned about opening up the RUD areas to video poker," commission member Donald Toole said. "Most of our major thoroughfares, including Highway 1 and 125, are RUD."

Nearly 70 percent of the county is zoned RUD, assistant county attorney Dennis Gmerek said. UD allows most commercial operations, including sexually oriented businesses.

The commission also recommended businesses with poker machines be required to have 15 parking places per 1,000 square feet of building.

The recommendation is to target larger casinos, Mr. Toole said. Most "mom and pop" locations with the games aren't any larger than 1,000 or 1,500 square feet, he said.

"Most of those places are small buildings with a big area for (gas) pumps," Vice Chairman Fred Langdon said.

The commission's proposal would add back 500-foot setbacks from churches, schools, homes, hospitals and parks. That portion was pulled out of the council plan Tuesday.

The county and North Augusta have scrambled to try and put zoning restrictions in place to limit the growth of the games since the state Supreme Court threw out the results of a 1994 referendum that banned the games in 12 counties, including Aiken. Both bodies have refused to issue licenses until their zoning changes are complete.

The county council has only approved its changes on first reading. The proposal was amended at Tuesday's meeting and immediately tabled. Two more readings and a public hearing are still required. The earliest it could be considered again would be at council's Jan. 7 meeting.

North Augusta City Council passed a new zoning map on second reading Monday that would restrict the games to areas zoned C-5. Third and final reading is expected to occur in January.

It includes a 300-acre strip along U.S. Highway 1 from the old K-Mart location to the Hippodrome, Breckenridge Village Shopping Center at the corner of Martintown and Atomic roads, and a stretch of Atomic Road from Old Edgefield Road to the Breckenridge Villa Apartments.

The city of Aiken already has zoning restrictions in place and began issuing licenses this week.

On Dec. 9, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its decision, 4-1, to overturn the 1994 county-by-county referendum. The court said a statewide criminal law cannot be enacted on a county-by-county basis.