Originally created 07/11/00

Stringent licensing proposed



Augusta City Attorney Jim Wall proposed three more changes to the city's arcade ordinance Monday in an effort to keep South Carolina's outlawed video poker industry out of Augusta.

Last month, Augusta commissioners rushed through an amendment to the ordinance in an effort to prevent strips of arcades by imposing distance and other licensing requirements for those with 10 or more machines.

Monday, Mr. Wall said the city needed to tighten its ordinance further and recommended:

Imposing licensing requirements on any business with three or more machines.

Prohibiting the transfer of an arcade license from one owner to another.

Allowing the city to audit the books of the business "at any time."

The new ordinance would clarify and strengthen the county's ability to regulate arcades, Mr. Wall said.

Mr. Wall also proposed a $250-a-year arcade license fee that would help pay for the cost of auditing the arcades' income.

The amended ordinance would apply to all businesses with three or more gaming machines, and existing ones would not be grandfathered in, which means all would be subject to the distance and licensing requirements.

Mr. Wall said the changes were needed to regulate concentrations of these machines.

"We became aware that certain individuals were trying to come in and accumulate numerous licenses for side-by-side locations with the intentions of putting less than 10 in there and attempting to circumvent the ordinance by virtue of having separate locations with less in 10 machines," he said. "But in essence it would be a strip that would be nothing more than an arcade area."

Currently, business owners can have up to 10 machines without having an arcade license. Those with an arcade license can have an unlimited number of machines, but there must be some skill involved in the game, Mr. Wall said.

The city's public services committee voted to send Mr. Wall's recommendations to the full Augusta Commission on July 20 without a recommendation at the suggestion of Mayor Pro Tem Willie Mays.

Mr. Mays said he wanted time to digest the proposed changes.

"I think the quickest way - and I think Jim will agree with me - that we're going to get sued is if we keep changing this ordinance every two weeks and amending it," Mr. Mays said.

"So then we're going to have folks turning up on us saying that you're doing it based on what I'm trying to base my business on. And somewhere in there these quick changes are going to get our butts whipped."

Last week, commissioners denied arcade licenses to two applicants who had applied before the amendment. One applicant was denied because he could not show he could satisfy the state law that 50 percent or more of the revenue generated would come from a source other than gaming machines. The other was denied because Mr. Wall deemed that three of the machines he proposed installing were gambling devices.

Mr. Wall said he has received phone calls from throughout the state from local officials scurrying to shore up or create ordinances to keep video poker out of their jurisdictions.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.