North Carolina House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, argues that North Carolina's new education lottery will remove the allure of another hotly debated form of gambling -- video poker.
"People tell me the lottery will probably pretty much do away with video poker," said Black, who backs the video poker industry. "Those people who want to do some recreational gambling can certainly get their kicks with the lottery."
Other video poker supporters hope the opposite will happen.
A few states have made video poker part of their lottery, bringing in money for government and for companies that build, own and maintain machines. Several companies want North Carolina to join them.
Video poker machines are usually restricted to bars and adult entertainment venues. They have variations of poker, blackjack, keno and other games of chance. In some states, they bring in more lottery revenue than scratch-off tickets or lotto games.
In Oregon, for instance, some 80 percent of the lottery money spent by the state comes from video terminals. West Virginia received $6 million in lottery revenues last year, but $124 million from video poker.
New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, South Dakota and Montana also have such "video lotteries," officials say.
Video lotteries appeal to a clientele traditional lotteries don't reach, said Fred Ayers of Coin Sports of North Carolina.
"Our amusement-machine industry believes we can add significantly to the education funding for the children of North Carolina," he said.
For the lottery and video poker to team up, lawmakers have to get the machines out of their quasi-legal status.
In North Carolina, it is legal to play video poker machines but illegal to win cash from them. Winnings must be "prizes" worth $10 or less.
South Carolina banned the machines in 2000, but that made the problem worse for North Carolina and other states, some argue. S.C. machines flooded East Coast states. North Carolina has about 10,000 registered machines, and sheriffs suspect there are thousands more.
N.C. officials prosecute when they can. David "Ricky" Godwin, 57, owner of the state's second-largest video poker company, received a seven-year prison sentence recently for laundering illegal video poker money.
Godwin and his family have given thousands in contributions to N.C. politicians, both backers and foes of video poker.
But the N.C. Sheriffs Association says it's difficult to monitor whether legal machines are illegally paying out. The group wants a ban, which Black has resisted, arguing operators would lose jobs.
The swarm of S.C. machines, and similar enforcement complaints, prompted West Virginia to legalize the devices in 2001, said Libby White, a lottery spokeswoman there.
White said the state saw a "horrendous influx" of machines in grocery stores and other places children would find them.
Since the machines are regulated by the lottery, West Virginia has more control. Minors can't play. If the machines are in establishments with children, the machines must be kept out of plain view.
Video poker machines were in the same legal "gray area" in Oregon before the state added a "video lottery" to its traditional lottery in 1992.
Now, the state can ensure it gets revenue from the 10,000 registered machines. It also regulates the games so they're run fairly, said Chuck Baumann, an Oregon lottery spokesman.
The N.C. lottery bill, drafted by House members, would have allowed a nine-member commission to team up with video-poker machine makers. Video poker foes fought it and got a provision in the state budget that removed the authority.
Now that the lottery has passed, video poker critics say manufacturers could lobby for the law to be changed.
"Once the moral ban in the policy arena is dropped, it's much more difficult to say 'no' to other things," said John Rustin, lobbyist for the Family Policy Council, a lottery and video poker opponent.
In Other States
Video poker has become a larger part of lottery revenue than scratch-off tickets and lotto games.
| ||Oregon ||West Virginia||South Dakota||Delaware|
|2004 population (in millions)||3.6||1.8||0.8||0.8|
|Video poker terminals||10,000||9,000||8,300||6,400|
|Poker revenues (in millions)||344||124||107||143|
|Traditional lottery revenues (millions)||72||6||8.2||79|
South Dakota and Delaware revenue figures are for fiscal year 2004; Oregon and West Virginia figures are for fiscal year 2005.
SOURCE: Oregon, South Dakota, West Virginia and Delaware lotteries