Originally created 08/07/99

Depot to add poker if allowed



AIKEN -- South Carolina customers of Depot Food Stores could always count on one thing:

Those inclined to play video poker would have to do it somewhere else.

Co-owner Greg Ryberg, a Republican state senator from Aiken and fervent foe of the gambling machines, would not allow them in the stores owned by his company, R&H Maxxon.

That is likely to change under new ownership if voters opt in a November referendum to keep gambling legal.

The Pantry Inc., which just purchased the Depot component of R&H Maxxon, has poker machines in its other South Carolina stores and likely will add them to the Depots, said Peter Sodini, president and CEO of the company that now owns convenience stores in eight states.

The 53 Depot stores just added give The Pantry 1,202 stores and its first foothold in Georgia.

Keeping video poker machines out of the Depot stores in South Carolina was not a condition of the sale, Mr. Sodini said.

"It never came up in the negotiations," he said. It was never a question for the 12 Depot stores in Augusta, because video gambling is not legal in Georgia.

While legal in South Carolina, the $2.5-billion-a-year industry is being forced for the first time to obey a state law that bans big jackpots and limits payouts to $125 a day to a single player.

It faces new taxes and stiff regulations if it survives the referendum in November.

Mr. Sodini said the Depot stores are "doing well" as they are, and "we plan to take the next few months and see what happens with the South Carolina referendum."

After that, if the machines remain legal, "we probably will add them," he said.

"Greg Ryberg was philosophically opposed and he had good reasons," Mr. Sodini said. "Our position is that we have the machines in our other stores, and the Depot stores are now owned by The Pantry."

R&H Maxxon partners, Mr. Ryberg and Tim Dangerfield, both are on extended vacations, one out of the state and the other out of the country.

Margaret N. O'Shea can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.