First Posted: 1/15/2009
The extent to which House Speaker Jim Black was stifling the will of the chamber he leads became apparent last week when representatives voted 114 to 1 to ban video poker.
Although Black had forbidden a vote in the House for years, he too cast a ballot to outlaw the industry, hiding behind the smokescreen that he was placated by the bill's provision to allow the machines to be operated until July 1, 2007. In truth, Black, under intense heat because of ethics questions that include donations he has accepted from the video poker machinery, no longer had the equity to vote in favor of the industry.
In fact, the lone vote against the legislation wasn't a vote in support of the industry, but a protest of the 13-month grace period.
Since the state Senate has voted five times since 2000 to outlaw the industry, there is no doubt that the legislation will become law. That means it will be more difficult - but not impossible - for Robesonians to find a place to gamble their money away.
Unfortunately, there will still be video poker machines operating illegally in the back rooms of some corner businesses in Robeson County, so the law enforcement nightmare will remain.
Proponents say the video poker industry is an important part of the state's economy, generating more than 1,700 jobs and contributing $100 million a year, and that the machines are harmless entertainment.
Unfortunately, this is an example of the whole class being punished for the deeds of a few. Video poker machines should have been harmless good fun, but because many were operated illegally, paying out cash prizes in excess of $10, some patrons became hooked - and damage was done.
Commons sense is that no one is going to feed coins into a machine all day with the hope of winning merchandise of less than $10 in value. In fact, the profitably of the machines rose proportionately to an operator's willingness to skirt the law.
The irony is that the General Assembly will ban this type of gambling just months after it established a lottery. The only real difference between buying a lottery ticket and plugging quarters into a video poker machine is the beneficiary.