Georgia's Supreme Court upheld a ban on video gambling machines today, driving them out of one more Southern state. The ruling outlaws any video machines with Las Vegas-style games such as poker or keno. They must exit Georgia by June 30.
Video gambling halls popped up in the state after neighboring South Carolina outlawed the machines two years ago, pulling the plug on more than 22,000 of them in the biggest rollback of legalized gambling in U.S. history. Georgia has 15,000 to 20,000 of the machines, the state reported in 2001.
Georgia banned the machines last summer, but the measure was never enforced. A Superior Court judge struck it down in January as arbitrary and overbroad after gambling operators had argued that the law could be interpreted to outlaw everything from skee-ball to computer solitaire.
A unanimous Supreme Court disagreed, saying "persons of common intelligence" could figure out which machines were banned.
Gambling operators have 10 days to stop using the games for profit, and the machines must be out of the state by June 30. In addition, the court ruled that game owners have no right to be compensated by the state for machines that are now illegal.
While Georgia has a lottery, Gov. Roy Barnes (D) made a video poker ban a major push of a special legislative session last summer. Georgia had some restrictions on video poker, but the laws were narrow and easy to circumvent.
Barnes praised the court's decision, calling video poker "particularly addictive." "Gambling is not a productive enterprise for the people of Georgia," he said.
Alan Begner, lead attorney for video poker supporters, said his clients will ask the court to reconsider. "I am devastated," he said. Les Schneider, another attorney for the industry, said the ruling was going to hurt a lot of small businesses.
In South Carolina, Gov. David Beasley declared war on video gambling in 1998, calling it the "crack cocaine of gambling" and seizing on the death of a 10-day-old baby left in a hot car while her mother gambled. The industry in turn used its vast resources to help oust Beasley.
Georgia started having problems after South Carolina banned the machines in July 2000, Barnes said.
Don Hankinson Jr., whose family owns Phoenix Amusements, said most machine owners would not be able to sell their games by the deadline. "The only thing we can do is try to sell parts off the machines. Other than that," he said, "they're worthless. We're talking pennies on the dollar."