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Lotteries Are Gambling and May Utilize Video Poker Model

Published Sunday, 9 July 2000, in The State (a South Carolina newspaper):

"State lottery could easily take form of video poker"

the lead editorial for the day:

"As the clock ticked down on video gambling, many poker barons worried about how to unload the white elephants that their neon-soaked casinos were about to become. But the owner of the State Line Game Room near Chesnee had plans for his little blight on the landscape. "When the lottery's voted in, I'll have the first place (in the state) where you can buy tickets," Sal Mayer told a reporter last month.

You can bet Mr. Mayer isn't thinking about opening a convenience store that sells scratch-off lottery tickets on the side.

You can bet he's dreaming of the day when he can reopen his casino and fill it back up with wall-to-wall video gambling machines, where the addicted sit for hours gazing at screens whose mesmerizing flashing lights provide the only illumination in artificially darkened rooms. Dreaming of a day when he will go into business with a new partner -- the state of South Carolina.

It is not an unrealistic dream. In Delaware, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota and West Virginia, the state "lotteries" derive the bulk of their income from "video lottery games," machines usually programmed to play video poker.

If voters agree in November to authorize a government-run lottery here in South Carolina, there will be nothing to stop our state from following suit.

The state constitution won't stop the government from plugging in video gambling machines and calling them a lottery. Last year, legislators refused to put such a prohibition in the constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot in November.

And there's no reason to think the state law that will spell out how a lottery operates will include such a restriction. Of course, we can't say that for sure, because the lottery supporters decided they would stand a better chance of winning if they didn't pass the law spelling out the rules for a lottery until after the vote. But the bills that lottery supporters proposed put no limits on the types of gambling operations the state could run as a lottery. If they weren't proposing any restrictions before the November vote, when they still need to convince voters to support their lottery, you can be sure they won't even consider them after the vote.

In fact, there is every reason to expect that video gambling will return to South Carolina under the guise of a lottery.

In every single state where the government runs a lottery, sales have sagged after the initial excitement wore off. In response, lottery officials have had to dream up more exciting games and roll out more enticing advertising campaigns to lure in more gamblers -- because politicians demanded that the gambling money to which they had become addicted keep pouring in.

With Georgia already running a popular lottery and North Carolina considering one, South Carolina could expect to see the drop-off even more quickly than most states. (Texas holds the record for the longest sustained growth before sales declined -- six years.) That would put lottery promoters here under even more pressure than most to quickly find a way to keep the money coming. What better way than to tap into the state's ready-made video poker market?

And who better to become our state's business partners than the poker barons, who demonstrated an ability to make a higher profit than any other legally sanctioned gambling operators in the nation?

Lottery proponents might say they would never let this happen. But they've already had two opportunities to prove that -- when they wrote the constitutional amendment that the Legislature passed and when they wrote the enabling legislation that they decided they didn't want the Legislature to pass just yet. Both times they failed.

There's only one way to make sure that Mr. Mayer and Fred Collins and Henry Ingram and Alan Schafer and the rest of the poker barons don't start operating video gambling casinos for the state of South Carolina: On Nov. 7, vote "no." "

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(posted 9 July 2000)