Originally created 08/27/99

Beck rallies voters



NORTH AUGUSTA -- Video poker will continue to be a hot topic in the South Carolina Legislature unless voters ban the gaming machines in the November special referendum. North Augusta Republican Scott Beck, District 83, told a group of nearly 30 constituents at a town meeting Thursday night that it would take a large majority of votes against the industry to send a message to the state courts that there is no place in South Carolina for video gambling.

"We're buying a lawsuit if we vote no, but I am convinced the law will withstand any court action," Mr. Beck said. "The size of the vote will have an impact. The larger the no vote, the less likely judges will rule in favor of the video poker industry."

North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones, a member of the audience at the town meeting, predicted the video gambling industry "will wait until June 29 to file for a stay" of implementation if video poker opponents prevail in the election. Mr. Jones is in the forefront of a local effort to rally opponents of the gaming industry and get them to the polls in November. A vote of no would shut down the gaming industry in South Carolina on June 30, 2000. Should the video gambling forces win in November, Mr. Beck says he and other anti-video poker legislators will begin work to change the enabling legislation passed in a special session in June.

"I'm not ashamed to tell you I was one of the holdouts on Governor Hodges' compromise." He said there are several things in the bill he would like to see changed if the vote is yes on video poker.

As it stands now, the pay out limit on each machine is $125, but a yes vote would raise that limit to $500. "That's too high. It would induce people to go in and play," he contended.

He also would change the rate of taxation on the proceeds from the machines from 25 percent of net income to 25 percent of gross because "you can fiddle with your income and bring a big wad down to a small one." And he doesn't like leaving it up to county councils to decide whether to continue to allow casinos after 2004. Some counties may have become dependent on the income from the giant sites that sometimes have more than 100 machines in separate, small rooms under one roof and won't want to lose the income.

Currently, the state earns about $60 million each year from the $3,000 biannual licensing fee charged for each machine. Cities and counties earn less than $400 for each machine every two years.

One source of income for both cities and counties, however, is property taxes, including the controversial tax on motor vehicles that Mr. Beck would like to see reduced further than the 4.5 percent decreased stretched during six years that was passed in this session of the Legislature.

"It amounts to nothing, about $7 per vehicle," Mr. Beck said.

But it would dry up an important source of revenue for cities, Mr. Jones maintained.

"If it's cut, we're going to have to cut services or raise taxes," he said. "It appears to me to be a kind of `take from Peter to pay Paul."'

Pat Willis can be reached at (803)279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.