Video gambling bill to boost HOPE goes to governor

Georgia’s HOPE college scholarship program could see a financial boost under a video gambling bill headed for Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk.

The House and Senate on Thursday approved a compromise to House Bill 487, which supporters billed as a law enforcement measure that they believe would stifle illegal gambling.

HB 487 would give control and enforcement of video poker machines to the Georgia Lottery Corp., with a share of the profits going to HOPE. The plan has the support of Deal, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and convenience stores where these machines are played.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, would allow the lottery to regulate the so-called Class B machines. The machines are legal as long as they don’t give cash payouts. The machines would be allowed to give vouchers for store merchandise and, under this bill, for lottery tickets.

HB 487 would create an electronic monitoring system run by the lottery that would track money fed into the machines to ensure operators are paying proper taxes.

The compromise bill would allow local governments to limit to six the number of machines per location; that’s down from nine under current law. It also would allow local governments to audit how machines are operating.

Some conservatives opposed the measure because they worried it would open the door to expanded gambling statewide. Supporters, however, said those fears were misplaced.

“It does not make anything legal that was illegal before,” said Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville.

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