Video poker bill will help enforce the law

“Convenience-store casino” was a catchy phrase coined by the media, usually in the context of a story regarding the seizure of coin-operated machines that were being used illegally.

There are more than 6,500 convenience stores in Georgia that provide employment for more than 70,000 of our citizens. The vast majority are operated lawfully. Convenience stores are an integral part of the communities they serve and are the primary source of sales made to support the Georgia Lottery and its HOPE scholarships.

Yet for all the good we seek to accomplish, the “casino” stereotype has been blight on our image as an industry.

For that reason alone, the passage of House Bill 487, which regulates video poker games and provides additional revenue to the lottery, was long overdue.

For years, members of the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores have been asking for relief from the state to curb illegal activities — the paying of cash — associated with video games found in certain stores. Retailers who “played by the rules” found themselves having to compete with rogue operators who were pocketing unreported, and untaxed, income from such activities. Prices on items on which we do compete — fuel, tobacco, etc. — were often artificially influenced by these under-the-counter profits.

For those who claim passage of HB 487 will increase gambling in Georgia, I have a counter argument: I believe the number of machines will actually decrease.

As someone who has been involved in convenience-store retailing for more than 37 years, I can attest that the passage of HB 487 will reduce profits for many retailers who have operated such machines illegally.

The legislation will provide law enforcement with something that they have always lacked – machine activity data – that will help them better utilize their resources to zoom in on suspects. Let’s face it: If four machines in a town are averaging a couple hundred dollars a week in activity, and another is averaging a couple thousand, where would you concentrate your attention? That has been a major enforcement challenge to date: knowing where to look.

HB 487 provides real data, as the machines must be connected to a modem that will transmit activity data to the Georgia Lottery Corp. and, as necessary, to law enforcement. Retailers whose livelihood is undergirded by illegal activity may also be reduced along with the machines involved.

We applaud Gov. Nathan Deal for taking the lead in promoting this overdue action to rein in activities associated with the illegal operation of video game machines. The machines that remain will be monitored and, for the first time, provide a source of income for the lottery.

Simply stated, with the passage of HB 487 and the targeted support of law enforcement, we can hopefully remove “convenience-store casino” from the public vernacular.

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Jim Tudor is president of the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores.