Originally created 11/13/97

Video poker profits pour in



AIKEN -- Video poker lawsuits are in legal limbo but the profits from the poker games keep pouring in.

And operators in North Augusta and Aiken County are big winners.

For fiscal year 1996-97 the county ranked 10th in the state with gross receipts collected by video poker operators of $36 million. North Augusta finished fourth among all cities for the quarter ending June 30 with 931 machines and gross receipts of almost $26 million. In two previous quarters, video poker earnings put the city in third and fifth slots.

The average profit per location in North Augusta, which has a concentration of poker malls with multiple machines, is $32,421. The state average per machine is $19,795.

Columbia, Greenville and Myrtle Beach ranked ahead of North Augusta, and Fort Mill came in fifth.

The data was released Wednesday by the state Department of Revenue. State officials rely solely on quarterly financial reports filed under law by the video operators themselves.

"We can't audit all 6,000 video poker operators," said state revenue spokeswoman Vicki Ringer.

The state will have a computerized system for tracking video money by Dec. 31, 1998. But earnings won't be available through the state's monitoring efforts until March 1999, she said.

"You feel certainly that profits are underreported," she said. "But like everyone who files a tax return, there are those who report honestly and those who don't."

For fiscal year 1996-97, total gross receipts statewide were reported as $1.7 billion with payouts of $1.2 billion and gross profits of $497 million. The number of machines reported was 25,150.

Video owners in Aiken County climbed into 10th spot without benefit of profits for the third quarter in 1996 when Aiken and 11 other counties still outlawed video poker.

All but $2 million was collected between January and June, after a state Supreme Court ruling reinstated the owners' rights to operate the machines in all 46 counties in the state.

Other top counties for annual video profits include, in order, Horry, Richland, Greenville, Spartanburg, Charleston, York, Lexington, Beaufort and Dillon.

The rise in poker profits in Aiken County has paralleled a decline in profits for poker owners in Edgefield County, where many people headed to play the games after the plugs were pulled in 1995 in Aiken.

According to the state revenue's report, profits in Edgefield County fell from $27 million in the last quarter of 1996 to $18 million in the quarter ending June 30.

In 1994, county-by-county referendums in Aiken and 11 other counties banned poker payouts and the machines were silenced effective July 1, 1995. But in November 1996 the state Supreme Court tossed out the referendum results as unconstitutional and the poker games were lit up again.

Since then a battle royal has been fought in lawsuits by both sides of the issue, and it could be a year or more before the game is played to its conclusion.

Poker earnings:

Data reported for quarter ending June 30 by video poker operators in these cities are:

Aiken

69 locations, 269 machines, $6.2 million in gross profits, $4.1 million in payouts, $2.04 million in net profits, $29,646 average profit per location.

Edgefield

12 locations, 46 machines, $1.2 million gross profits, $992,000 payouts, $231,461 net profits, $19,288 average profit per location.

Barnwell

12 locations, 31 machines, $369,663 in gross profits, $219,985 in payouts, $149,678 net profits, $12,473 average profit per location.