Legislation destined for the General Assembly may be a jackpot for Georgia's gaming industry.
Les Schneider, lawyer and lobbyist for Georgia Amusement and Music Operators Association, has helped draft legislation that he hopes to push through the legislature.
Though the draft slaps strict fines on lawbreakers, it allows businesses to continue to offer video poker machines to customers and limits the powers of local governments to regulate the machines.
Mr. Schneider's legislation differs markedly from Senate Bills 18 and 19, sponsored by Sen. Mike Beatty, R-Jefferson, which would in effect ban video poker. The games have come under increasing scrutiny in Georgia since South Carolina banned them last year, culminating in a series of raids in September, when hundreds of machines were seized in Hart and Franklin counties.
Mr. Schneider said the issue is "not just about video poker." He said all amusement machines that require some skill and don't pay out in cash should be legal in Georgia.
"We're trying to toughen up all criminal penalties for businesses who do it improperly," Mr. Schneider said. "If people use machines within the confines of the law, they have no problems."
According to the draft legislation, in the event of a cash payout, the machine player, the machine owner and the employee who makes the cash payout would all be punishable for up to $1,000 or a year in confinement.
Current Georgia law does not hold the owner of a machine or the cash payee responsible for illegal use of gambling machines - only the machine operator is held responsible.
The Department of Revenue currently issues licenses for video poker machines, and the department would need to be made aware of potential changes in the licensing procedure.
The machines would continue to be licensed with the department under Mr. Schneider's legislation, and winnings would continue to be limited to $5 increments of in-house merchandise.
"We're not interested in money being paid out," Mr. Schneider said. "Merchandise only."