Originally created 01/20/99

Council drops video poker law



AIKEN -- The Aiken County Council voted Tuesday to do away with its video poker regulations, which have generated numerous lawsuits.

Existing laws require that any video poker business be located no closer than 150 feet from any property boundary. The proposed change does away with that requirement entirely and adopts the state's existing regulations on the games instead.

County Administrator Bill Shepherd said he put the proposed change on the council agenda after the attorney handling the case told him the county would likely lose the suits on the existing rules.

If the county does not change its existing regulations for video poker, it risks having no rules on the books if the courts throw out the existing ones, he said.

The proposed change is not a settlement with the video poker owners suing the county, but if the county council adopts the change, they may drop their lawsuits, Mr. Shepherd said.

The proposed change now goes to the county planning department for review and must pass two more readings before the county council, meaning it could become law no sooner than late March, Mr. Shepherd said.

As written, dozens of parlors, bars, convenience stores and other businesses with the controversial machines are in violation of the county's current regulations, according to records from the county revenue and planning departments.

The current regulations were passed into law in 1997 and have generated multiple lawsuits against the county.

In other business, the county council voted to go with the bid from Augusta-based Emergency Services Integrators to outfit the county's communications center. The council also approved on first reading raising 911 fees from 52 cents to 60 cents for five years to pay for the new equipment.

The council also approved an operating budget for the Mattie C. Hall Health Care Center that includes a $6 per day room rate increase, resulting in a $10,842 profit at the end of the year.

The alternative budget with no rate increase will result in a loss of $92,330 for the year, according to documents from the health care center.

Todd Bauer covers Aiken County and business issues for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.