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Thursday, March 14, 2013 - 11:41am

Video Poker Bill Passes With Debate

A bill that would allow the state to get a better handle on video poker machines moved one step closer to becoming law Thursday. The vote followed a spirited three-hour debate in the state Senate that revealed ambivalence about permitting the machines in Georgia.

The bill targets video poker machines found often in gas stations that award non-cash prizes.

Backed by Gov. Nathan Deal, it would crack down on the machines’ illegal payouts. It would also transfer regulation of them to the Georgia Lottery Corporation.

Between five and ten percent of the revenue would go to the HOPE college scholarship program.

Sen. Butch Miller, a Gainesville Republican, sponsored the bill in the Senate.

“The Lottery Corp. will know how many people played the game," he said on the Senate floor. "They will know how many people won, how many people lost. Right now, we have no record of that. We have no idea who’s playing the game, how many times they’re playing the game, whether they won or lost. Did they pay out in merchandise? Did they pay out in gas? Did they pay out in cash? We don’t know any of that.”

During the debate, members of both parties voiced concerns about the bill, and gambling, illegal and otherwise in Georgia.

Democratic Senators said the state wouldn’t be increasing the number of agents policing the machines so the bill wouldn’t accomplish much.

And despite the bill having Deal’s support, some Republican Senators railed against the evils of gambling.

Sen. Bill Heath is a Bremen Republican.

“I don’t think we should be legitimizing gambling in Georgia," he said. "It is destroying families, It’s taking food off the tables in our homes and from our children. The least capable people in this state are being penalized because we have a lottery.”

The bill now heads back to the House, which would have to agree to the Senate’s changes for it to move onto final passage.