Senate votes Georgia Lottery Corporation control of video poker machines

Published: Mar. 15, 2013 at 9:07 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 20, 2013 at 9:08 PM EDT
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ALBANY, GA (WALB) - South Georgia law enforcers say they're all for a plan to give the HOPE scholarship program a boost through video poker.

Thursday the Georgia Senate passed a bill that would give oversight of video poker and other gaming machines to the Georgia Lottery Corporation which would also get the licensing fees.

The Georgia Senate voted overwhelmingly to put the Georgia Lottery Corporation in control of these often controversial video poker machines across the state, and use tax money raised by those machines to fund Pre-K and college educations.

The Senate voted 35 to 16 to approve House Bill 487, which would transfer the control and enforcement of video poker machines to the Georgia Lottery Corporation from District Attorney's offices. D.A. Greg Edwards thinks it's a good idea, with lottery officials expertise.

Edwards said "Has an investigative arm that could be utilized to keep track of the video poker activities. And that would give us some supplemental support in terms if any illegal issues should occur."

And there have been a number of legal issues involving video poker games in South Georgia. Edwards said legislators have struggled in recent years to regulate the video poker machines. They are legal if awarding vouchers for merchandise in stores, but not cash, tobacco, or alcohol.  But Edwards said too often merchants had games awarding cash.

Edwards said "Absolutely. We've had to prosecute a number of cases in this circuit with people getting paid cash, which is improper for this type of activity. So with another pair of eyes so to speak going to be affirmatively looking at the games, that should aid in it's enforcement."

Edwards is also encouraged that the Lottery Corporation would be able to more closely oversee the video poker games, to safeguard people who can least afford to lose money to them.

Edwards said "That's the other concern, that people get addicted to gambling. I mean it's been identified as a disorder."

Under the Senate proposal, a share of the proceeds would be used to fund the state's HOPE scholarship program. Supporters of the Senate Bill include Governor Nathan Deal, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and convenience store associations where some of these machines are played.

Several Dougherty County store and bar owners told us they don't have the video poker machines in their businesses, because they knew they were "not welcome in Dougherty County." One owner told me they were not worth having, because not many people play them if they don't pay cash.

The Georgia House already approved the bill last week... But now must approve changes made by the Senate.

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