One of North Carolina's top lawmakers Friday called for banning the sale of lottery tickets at businesses with video poker machines, a ban one operator said would effectively kill the video poker business.
Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight proposed the ban in a letter to lottery commission Chairman Charles Sanders. The Dare County Democrat has long opposed video poker. While the Senate has repeatedly voted to ban the games, the House never has.
An ongoing federal probe of the industry last year snared a former state transportation secretary for violating federal gaming laws. Another operator pleaded guilty to running an illegal gambling business.
"I am concerned that the recent criminal convictions and ongoing investigations involving video poker will only cause further problems with the lottery, which, as we both unfortunately know, has already had its share of controversy," Basnight wrote.
Such a ban could do what industry opponents have tried and failed to do -- virtually end the games. There are roughly 8,000 video poker operators in the state.
"(Convenience) stores would end up dropping the poker machines so they can have the lottery," said Kemer Petty, vice president of Leisure Time Amusements in Winston-Salem. "Because then your competition has lottery down the street, and you have poker machines. ... It would kill it if that would happen."
Other operators have said they would choose lottery over poker.
In North Carolina, it's legal to play video poker machines, but illegal to win cash from them. Winnings must be "prizes" worth $10 or less. Lottery players, on the other hand, hope to win millions.
The commission, not the legislature, could approve a ban. "But it sounds like a very reasonable prohibition from my point of view," said Sanders.
Basnight and House Speaker Jim Black, a Matthews Democrat, each appointed two people to the nine-member board. Democratic Gov. Mike Easley named the other five.
Easley supports a video poker ban. Black favors tighter regulations but not an outright ban, which he says would cost up to 5,000 jobs. Shortly after the lottery passed, Black said it could mean the end of video poker.
"He believes that legislators and others should let the lottery commissioners do their job," said spokeswoman Julie Robinson. "He will not make suggestions or take a position on this or any other issue before the commission."
Basnight called video poker "one of our state's worst and most addictive legal vices. I remain hopeful that the legislature will soon agree to ban video poker in its entirety."
South Carolina banned video poker shortly after voters there approved a lottery in 2000.
The N.C. Sheriffs' Association favors a ban. So does Democracy South, a group that has probed donations from the industry to legislators.
"We've been concerned about the corruption that's connected to the video poker industry, and unfortunately, it looks like there's some corruption connected to the lottery," said Bob Hall, the group's research director.
Controversy has dogged the lottery since it passed by a single vote in August.
This week the N.C. attorney general opened a criminal probe into what one agency called "apparent violations" of state lobbying laws by lottery vendor Scientific Games and three people who worked for it.
Among them: Charlotte businessman Kevin Geddings, who resigned Tuesday from the commission hours before Scientific Games reported it had paid him fees of $24,500 this year. Neither he nor the company had revealed the payments.
Basnight also urged the commission to extend its new ethics code to "all those who do business with North Carolina's lottery."