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Video game legislation advances as GOP softens stance


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Sheriffs and lawyers remain opposed, but Donald Trump’s party is no longer a roadblock

Video games have been a long-standing target of law and law enforcement in North Carolina. State lawmakers are now considering a bill that would make video lottery games legal and use some of the players’ money for community college student loans.

Bill 954 passed the House Commerce Committee on August 31. It was due to be considered by the House finance committee on Thursday, but was pulled from the schedule on Wednesday.

Under the bill, the state Lottery Commission would license and regulate the machines.

The operators, those who own or rent the machines, would get 35% of the income; 25% would go to the merchants who offer the games; and at least 32% would go into a new North Carolina video lottery fund. The state’s public HBCUs would each receive $ 2 million per year to improve graduation rates, student success, or “institution sustainability.”

The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Harry Warren, a Republican from Salisbury, told lawmakers the proposal would reduce raffle machines in the state by 65% to 70%, WRAL reported.

Warren could not be reached this week. An email from his legislative assistant on Monday said he does not do interviews.

A long-standing enforcement battle

The state has been playing Whack-A-Mole with the video game for years.

The legislature voted overwhelmingly at least three times, in 2006, 2007 and 2010, to ban machines. With each new law, operators have changed the games so as to escape the ban.

Video game operators filed a lawsuit, but the state Supreme Court upheld the ban in 2012.

Last June, the state Supreme Court ruled again, ruling that a game, according to a company called Crazie Overstock Promotions, involved both chance and skill. mainly chance and illegality.

Despite attempts to ban them, the machines remain ubiquitous in the state, luring gamers to gas stations, convenience stores, and standalone gaming businesses that operate openly.

Representative Howard Hunter, a Democrat from Ahoskie and one of the bill’s sponsors, said it makes sense for the state to regulate gambling.

“We need to regulate these raffle halls,” he said in an interview. “They are popping up all over my neighborhood.”

The sheriff’s office in Warren’s home County Rowan is aggressively pursuing raffle businesses, carrying out raids and undercover operations.

Electronic games in which players shoot fish are popular. Rowan County Sheriff’s Office raided Salisbury’s business FishZilla Arcade last month, WBTV reported.

Since February 2020, Rowan’s sheriff’s office has executed nine search warrants against gaming companies, conducted around 20 secret gaming investigations, seized around $ 1 million and hundreds of machines, and charged 16 people, said Deputy Chief David Ramsey in an email.

He estimated that the county has 1,000 illegal machines.

“Surveys have shown that arcades operate much like casinos, while they have dark spaces, usually no clocks, provide refreshments, and have ATMs,” he wrote.

Ramsey, who said he has worked undercover in companies, said the operations prey on the people who can least afford to lose money, with people betting their paychecks, stimulus money and unemployment benefits.

The NC Sheriffs’ Association opposes video lotteries.

Eddie Caldwell, North Carolina Sheriffs Association

Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president of the association, said the bill did not provide local law enforcement officers with a way of knowing whether a machine has a state license or whether the places of play exceed their authorized limits.

The bill does not make gambling illegal, Caldwell said. Warren said existing machines would be banned, Caldwell said, but the bill does not.

“We suggest this be clarified so that it is crystal clear,” Caldwell said.

Not all law enforcement agencies prosecute video game shows as vigorously as Rowan’s sheriff’s office.

Caldwell said he couldn’t identify a reason. But the sheriff’s offices are getting calls from residents who say their loved ones are exploding household budgets in gambling halls they know are illegal, Caldwell said, they want them closed.

These residents do not know their lawmakers or anyone else to call, he said. “They know who the sheriff is.

A radical change of the GOP

The raffle bill is not the only gambling bill that has gained traction this legislative session. The Senate adopted a bipartisan decision invoice last month that legalizes sports betting, although most Republicans in the chamber voted against it.

These bills represent a shift in the views of some Republicans on gambling, which their party platform had once opposed.

The state lottery was passed in 2005 without any Senate Republican voting for it. A Republican senator who was absent for the vote and did not actively oppose the lottery lost his primary the following year.

The Republican position on the game has since changed.

The Christian Action League criticized the GOP’s decision to weaken the language of the party platform on gambling in 2014, when the state’s GOP held his convention at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.

The Republican Party’s national flag bearer, former President Donald Trump, is a former casino owner and Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn was a prominent GOP donor.

The GOP state platform is now silent on gambling.

Defenders express their concern

The Bernals

The proliferation of illegal video games highlights the mistake behind one of the justifications for having a state lottery – that it would eliminate illegal gambling, said Les Bernal, national director of Stop Predatory Gambling, a non-profit organization. profit that opposes state sponsored gambling.

“The more state governments like North Carolina encourage predatory gambling, the more it normalizes it,” he said. “It normalizes that it’s okay to rip people off with these slots. You create thousands of mini-casinos across the state.

The state-sponsored gambling shifts the tax burden on low-income people, who are disproportionately black and brown, said Bernal.

In 2012, Illinois began allowing video games in licensed businesses, unless the courts object.

The Illinois law has been touted as a way to help restaurants, said Anita Bedell, executive director of Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems. But other types of businesses, including a flower shop, beauty salon, and laundromats, have applied for liquor permits and added the machines, she said. The state also has stand-alone gambling cafes.

The state-sanctioned video game works alongside video raffle machines that are neither regulated nor taxed, she said.

A 2019 ProPublica survey called video games in the state a “botched cash roundup”, where the machines were more likely to be found in low-income communities.

ProPublica had more places in Illinois with video games outside of casinos than in any other state that allows it.

Bedell said the Illinois Gaming Board regularly legalizes additional machines.

“You can’t control it,” she said.

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