Originally created 01/26/99

Poker not part of store's plans



NORTH AUGUSTA -- No video poker machines are presently planned for a controversial convenience store under construction on Pisgah Road in North Augusta.

"When my store opens, there won't be any video poker machines in it and right now, I have no intentions of putting any in," said Henry Beard, owner of the Eagle Express under construction at the fork of Pisgah and Five Notch roads.

Mr. Beard did not rule out installation of the machines at a later date, but he didn't rule them in, either.

"I don't say I won't change my mind six months down the line, but I'm asking them to give me a chance to show what kind of business I operate," he said in a telephone interview after the meeting.

Mr. Beard said he did not attend a massive meeting Monday night at Hammond Grove Baptist Church on nearby Hemlock Road. The meeting was called by the church's pastor, the Rev. Bobby G. Hankerson, to determine how to keep the gaming machines out of the neighborhood.

An estimated 600 people crowded into the church sanctuary and galleries to hear state and local officials tell them their chances rested largely on a technicality -- the distance between the convenience store and a nearby park.

The Eagle Express lies just outside North Augusta city limits but is less than 300 feet from the Pisgah Road entrance to the Greeneway, a hiking/biking trail that winds through the city.

North Augusta officials contend the trail is an integral part of the city's park system and thus locating a video poker parlor near the entrance violates a city ordinance prohibiting gaming machines within 300 feet of parks and schools. But state law and the site of the convenience store combine to complicate the matter, according to state Rep. Scott Beck, R-North Augusta.

South Carolina law separates the video poker licensing function from enforcement.

"That's a glitch in the law," Mr. Beck said. "The department of revenue licenses the number of machines rather than the location. Enforcement is up to South Carolina Law Enforcement."

The State Law Enforcement Division has been asked to visit the scene and measure the distance from the convenience store to the entrance of the Greeneway. But first it must be established that the Greeneway is indeed a park, and if so, whether the city ordinance applies.

In addition, Otis Rawl, a representative of the South Carolina Department of Revenue, said the state would not know the location of the machines until after they are licensed and installed.

According to County Administrator Bill Shepherd, Mr. Beard had not applied for an operator's license as of 5 p.m. Monday. But Mr. Rawl noted that machines could be moved from another location or be licensed under another name.

The state does not provide for a pre-emptive strike against the gaming machines, Mr. Rawl said.

Thus opponents of video poker must wait to see what Mr. Beard's final decision on the machines will be, and they won't know until they are in operation.

Pat Willis covers North Augusta, Horse Creek Valley and Edgefield County for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.