Originally created 12/19/97

Voting seen as bad idea



AIKEN -- Holding a second referendum on video poker in South Carolina is a bad idea that would play into the hands of poker owners, state Sen. Greg Ryberg said Thursday.

"We can't win a referendum if (the video industry) decides to spend $50 million to $100 million to represent their side of the issue," he told the Aiken Kiwanis Club. "It's not fair. I'm sure the video poker industry is behind it."

The latest Mason-Dixon poll showed about 46 percent of the state voters surveyed support video poker in South Carolina, with 47 percent opposing the industry. However, 24 percent of the people in favor of video poker think the industry needs stricter regulations placed on it.

In addition, 67 percent of the people want to raise taxes on video poker, while 16 percent oppose the idea.

State Sen. John Drummond, D-Ninety Six, has prefiled a bill for the 1998 legislative session that calls for a statewide referendum in November on whether to ban video gambling.

In November 1994, a county-by-county statewide referendum resulted in 12 counties including Aiken banning the video machines. In November 1996, the state Supreme Court ruled the bans violated the constitution because criminal penalties must be applied uniformly throughout the state.

Citing state revenue data that video poker owners grossed $1.4 billion in 1996 and were on a pace to earn $2 billion in 1997, Mr. Ryberg, R-Aiken, called the popular games an "insidious plague."

Video poker will be a hot issue when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 13, he said. Unlike earlier years when the votes weren't there to block video poker laws, he predicted poker opponents in the Senate would muster 25 votes in 1998.

"We've seen a swing of five votes," he said. Four more votes are needed to hold a filibuster, but Mr. Ryberg said opponents are committed to defending their position. He called opposition to video poker in the state House "a slam dunk."

"South Carolina has become the most wide-open unregulated gambling haven in the country," the senator said. "It's absolutely unregulated in this state. You can't walk into a convenience store, restaurant or bar without seeing video poker machines.

"What about the five-machine limit? That's a joke," he said.

Mr. Ryberg said he will introduce legislation to eliminate payouts from video machines. He said he would support a call for Gov. David Beasley to approve a state budget that excludes an estimated $62 million the state will collect from issuing poker permits.

The state needs to wean itself from poker money while "it's not an insurmountable amount of money," Mr. Ryberg said.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.