North Carolina lawmakers have been combatting video poker and electronic sweepstakes games since 2000 through laws and court cases, but gambling continues unabated across the state despite efforts to limit or outright ban the machines, leading to theft, embezzlement, foreclosures, job loss and bankruptcy as a result. Law enforcement’s limited resources make dealing with this problem even more of a strain than before.
State legislators are renewing an attempt to legalize video gambling machines and share some of the profits with community colleges and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Under their plan, video gambling machines would be licensed and regulated by a lottery commission that would receive 40% of any profits that could then be allocated towards education or law enforcement grants. The proposal is being discussed by the House Commerce Committee.
Rep. Harry Warren of Rowan County brought House Bill 512 before the Committee and warned of its potential dangers, telling members of the panel he estimated there are between 60-100 illegal machines operating throughout North Carolina primarily at sweepstakes parlors or gambling businesses.
One component of the bill would create a stricter licensing process than what is currently required under state gaming statutes. Under this legislation, businesses wanting to operate video gambling machines must obtain a certificate from the lottery commission; furthermore, the commission will establish rules governing how machines should operate as well as mandating they be stored safely in well-lit environments.
The measure, which has broad support from both gambling industry players and some social conservatives, faces an uphill climb. Religious conservatives such as Reverend Mark Creech from Christian Action League oppose it on grounds that providing “false hope” through gambling should not be part of state policy.
Legislators need to decide not only whether video gambling should be legalized but also how much of its revenue should go toward treating and educating about gambling addiction, since state-funded programs for this issue are usually extremely limited and usually run by private organizations. This bill would provide $350 million for these programs in 2028 – an increase from the current level. According to fiscal analysts at the General Assembly, they expect this measure will generate $1.1 billion in revenues through gambling machine operator fees by that point in time. Revenue will come primarily from terminal fees charged to players when using machines; operators will receive 35% while retailers who sell games will get 25%; any leftover funds will go toward funding public needs through state lottery funds, which have already proven vital sources. A bill to implement this reform is set for debate by the full Senate next week.