Originally created 09/05/97

Controversial video poker mall planned



NORTH AUGUSTA -- The doors can't be officially opened yet, but the banner for North Augusta's newest video poker mall was unfurled this week.

Renovations to the former adult-oriented Foxes V and Video Showcase II at the Fifth Street bridge are under way.

The new Double Diamond video poker mall is outside the city limits, and permits must be issued by Aiken County or the South Carolina Department of Revenue.

"We would not be impressed with them opening, but we don't have anything to say about it," said Charles Martin, North Augusta's city administrator.

Aiken County officials succeeded in shutting down the book and video businesses in 1996 after owners attempted to stay open following a 1994 fire that destroyed Foxes V.

County officials also have attempted through amended zoning ordinances to restrict video poker businesses since November, when a state Supreme Court order tossed out a county-by-county referendum that banned video poker in 12 counties, including Aiken.

However, video poker owners have met their opposition with lawsuits.

Phil England, director of the county planning and development office, said the county issued permits in July for renovations at the site to Phoenix Co. and to Michael Mims, president of Palmetto Games, both in Columbia.

Contractor Frank Miller said Thursday he hopes to finish the remodeling within the next week or so. He was hired by Phoenix Co. to do the repairs, he said.

"I have no idea on the schedule for reopening," Mr. Miller said.

Richard Brady, one of two owners of Phoenix Co., did not return a telephone call Thursday.

Aiken County Tax Collector Martin Posey said his office received a phone call regarding the license to operate video poker machines, but no application has been put in yet.

"We'd prefer them to have the state license first," Mr. Posey said.

The owners would also have to provide proof that they can be grandfathered under conditions imposed by a temporary injunction ordered by a circuit judge in January. The judge's order prohibited the county from pulling the plug on machines operating prior to July 1995, when the referendum effectively banned the games.

Mr. England said his office had a March 26 notarized statement from Mr. Brady as well as a copy of the original license showing that Video Showcase II operated five poker machines at the site in March 1991.

The site has gotten a permit from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control for a septic tank to handle sewage for people using up to 14 video poker machines.

"We don't regulate video poker in any way," said David Angle, assistant director of environmental health at the district office in Aiken. However, he said the site, like any other business, required inspection and an estimate on the sewage capacity that could be handled by the septic tank.