Originally created 02/13/98

Legislators fight video-gambling ban with filibuster

COLUMBIA -- Now the real fight begins.

Lawmakers and activists trying to ban the almost $2 billion video-gambling industry face a daunting, if not impossible, task in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

While a slim majority of senators say they support banning video gambling, there were not enough of them Thursday lined up to beat a planned filibuster by Senate Majority Leader John Land, D-Manning, and Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston.

That may leave the issue in a legislative stalemate, which would be a win for the industry.

"I'm not saying they can't do it, but they're going to have to jump through so many hoops in the Senate," said Sen. Ernie Passilaigue, D-Charleston, who supports Mr. Land and Mr. McConnell.

Mr. Land and other video poker supporters hold up a 1994 county-by-county referendum as reason for opposing the ban. Then, 58 percent of the state voted to keep cash payouts.

"I respect that vote, and I'm going to back them up as long as I stand," Mr. Land said.

However, the state Supreme Court threw out the vote as unconstitutional. Later legislative attempts to legalize the referendum's results have been challenged in court by video-gambling operators, and payouts continue.

Republicans cheered their overwhelming victory in the House on Wednesday after a massive lobbying effort by Gov. David Beasley and several conservative religious groups. But senators may be immune to the letters and calls from constituents because it's not an election year, unlike House members, Mr. Beasley and other constitutional officers.

"They're wasting their time to be calling me like that," said Sen. Kay Patterson, D-Columbia. "That doesn't do one thing but make me mad, because I'm going to vote for poker."

To stop a filibuster, the Senate needs 29 votes, about two-thirds of the chamber. The video-gambling ban already has 23 Senate sponsors and some other supporters, including Sens. Robert Waldrep, R-Anderson, Linda Short, D-Chester, and Darrell Jackson, D-Columbia. But though Mr. Waldrep says he'll vote to break the filibuster, Mr. Jackson, Ms. Short and other senators say they won't stop debate.

"Especially if the talking's being done by Senate Majority Leader Land or Senator McConnell," Mr. Jackson said.

There is always an alternative, said Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, a ban supporter. "If you wait long enough and people get tired, that may sway a few votes," Mr. Hayes said.

Mr. Passilaigue, a Charleston accountant, said that even if senators could end Mr. Land's filibuster, there are at least 50 amendments ready to delay any vote on the ban.

"There are thousands and thousands of permutations I can work with, and I get to explain each one," Mr. Passilaigue said.

Senators would need another two-thirds vote to limit amendment debates.

Things may change before the session's end in June. Gambling regulations and bills still can be introduced. And filibusters don't always work, as Mr. Land found out when senators broke one on South Carolina's concealed weapons law.

"I didn't think they had the votes to do that until they did it," he said.

Mr. Passilaigue said he has approached Mr. Hayes about opening negotiations on the bill, perhaps for a referendum or more taxes and regulations on the industry.

Mr. Beasley said he would not support anything other than a ban.

Mr. Beasley also has said he and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Henry Brown, R-Hanahan, will put a gambling ban inside the state budget. "The budget bill always makes it to the governor's desk," Mr. Beasley said.

But Mr. Passilaigue and Mr. McConnell say Senate rules still require a two-thirds vote for permanent law changes inside the budget.

"They're eventually going to have to come to us," Mr. McConnell said.


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