The public wants to ban video poker in Georgia. So does the governor, law-enforcement and prosecutors. The state Senate voted unanimously to get rid of the gambling machines.
So if something has all that much support, how can it fail? Well, powerful House Speaker Tom Murphy, D-Bremen, hasn't indicated he's all that enthusiastic about the ban. Moreover, the gambling industry and its allies - amusement game makers, coin operators, truck stops and some convenience and small grocery stores - have a lot of clout in the lower chamber where, between all the redistricting squabbles, the fate of video poker in the Peach state will be decided this week.
Pro-gambling PACs are betting that their generous campaign contributions will influence enough House members to kill the Senate's ban plan or at least water it down. What that would mean, of course, is that the industry would write up its own rules and regulations for the General Assembly to rubber stamp.
But as Augusta District Attorney Danny Craig points out, anything less than a total ban of the machines will, in effect, be a green light for gambling games to make even further inroads across the state.
They're already a billion-dollar industry in Georgia, although gambling, including video poker payoffs, is against the law. Pro-gambling forces would stiffen the penalties for illegal payoffs, but as Craig and his fellow prosecutors noted in a rousing public appearance with Gov. Roy Barnes last week, the payoff ban applies only to cash. To be effective, the machines must be banned.
Gift certificates, food and merchandise giveaways and other substitute payoffs are allowed under Georgia law, and abuse is rampant. Moreover, the prohibition on cash payouts is virtually impossible to enforce - unless a police officer could be stationed at every machine - because the violation has to be witnessed for charges to be filed.
The bleeding-heart argument against throwing the poker machines out of the state - as South Carolina did last year - is that it would bankrupt many small businesses and throw people out of work. There's no reason why that should happen, however, unless those businesses have been circumventing the payoff ban, in which case they deserve to go out of business.
Another phony contention is that banning gambling machines could also ban arcade games. That's a red-herring.
If the House is to support law-enforcement and vote the will of the people it will, without compromise, endorse the Senate's vote to boot video poker machines out of the state.
Anything less is a vote in favor of addicting thousands of Georgians to the "crack cocaine" of gambling.
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