Recent months have seen the return of video gambling to North Carolina in a manner not anticipated by the General Assembly when it voted overwhelmingly to ban video poker four years ago. The ban passed in 2006 after a six year effort that stretched over three biennial legislative sessions. The ban came on the heels of numerous attempts to regulate the machines and prevent their use for gambling—efforts which ultimately proved to be unsuccessful.
A major part of the problem is that the machines are essentially computers and can be programmed to play or provide many different “games.” Several years ago, I attended a demonstration given by an officer from the N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement Division, one of the lead agencies at the time for ferreting out illegal gambling. The officer showed us how the machines could be quickly reprogrammed to switch from video poker to a benign video game by opening the front cover and simply throwing a switch. He said that if an operator saw a member of law enforcement coming into the parking lot, the switch would be thrown and the game changed before the officer could get out of his vehicle.
The ease of hiding the gambling within the machine’s computer made enforcement almost impossible. Sort of like walking into a room where children are misbehaving, or employees are checking personal email on the company computer and when confronted, the evidence is suddenly gone with just one keystroke.
Unregulated video gambling is enormously profitable for the operators, legal or illegal. Proper regulation, however, is expensive for the government and is not easily accomplished. Yet, that is what some operators are saying they want. The cry for regulation from the government by any economic enterprise should be suspect. In this case it should be ignored.
What the General Assembly should do is ban the video gambling machines outright—and they should take up this challenge in the short session that begins this May.
On another gambling front, there have been reports that Governor Beverly Purdue is considering requests from the Cherokee Indians in western North Carolina to expand their video poker casino gambling to full-blown Las Vegas style casinos. This would allow other gambling such as roulette, craps, poker and slot machines. We hope the Governor will resist the temptation to allow the Cherokee to gamble beyond what state law allows for others. Federal law does not require it. And yes, a special provision for video poker was made for the Cherokee, but then, they already had a compact and had built a casino before video poker was banned by the General Assembly. Granting expanded gambling status to the Cherokee could open the door to full-blown casino gambling elsewhere in North Carolina. This would be a huge mistake for our state to go down that road.
Most gambling remains banned in North Carolina, and what is here, namely the lottery, is heavily regulated. Gambling remains an activity that creates compulsive gamblers, hurts legitimate businesses, and always hurts families, especially the families of compulsive gamblers. We hope the General Assembly will take up video gambling and ban it in such a way that it will be clear to our judiciary that the machines are not legal. We also hope Governor Perdue will not allow Cherokee gambling to expand.