Originally created 01/19/99

Poker bill a sellout 011999 - The Augusta Chronicle

Senate Majority Leader John Land, D-Manning, has submitted to the South Carolina Legislature the first major bill to regulate video gambling. Alarmingly, the measure looks like it was written by the gambling industry itself -- a nightmare-come-true for critics of video poker.

Land, a notorious ally of gambling interests, is urging that a seven member gaming commission be established to oversee the poker machines.

It would be a good sign if Gov. Jim Hodges, who pulled his election upset on the strength of huge contributions from gambling interests, offered something much stronger. Such a move would show his independence and indicate that he plans to make good on his promise to install a tough regulatory regime.

A stiffer regulation bill would strengthen public control over the poker machines without adding new layers of bureaucracy. Land's bill does just the opposite. His gaming commission -- with six panelists being named by lawmakers and one by the governor -- is a new bureaucracy.

Currently, the state Revenue Department regulates and issues licenses for video gambling machines, while the State Law Enforcement Division enforces what few rules there are. Both agencies report to the governor.

Land's plan weakens the governor's hand -- putting the industry under the control of regulators who don't answer to voters. What a terrific break for the gamblers.

It opens up the opportunity for the industry to use its clout to get "friendly" regulators named to the board who would then write regulations hospitable to the industry.

And if the public didn't like it, who could they blame? Land's appointment plan is so diffused that no elected politician could be held accountable for what the board does; the most they'd be responsible for is one appointee.

If Hodges goes along with Land's plan, it'll look like the governor is running for cover for when the gambling interests take over. The governor must turn back the effort to weaken his hand and urge tough, new regulations to be enforced by agencies under his control. That would boost confidence that gambling interests aren't buying the state.


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