From the beginning, the odds were pretty low that Georgias fledgling video poker industry would go down without a fight.
Now, thanks to a ruling by a Fulton County judge, the crack cocaine of gambling gets a temporary reprieve. And addicts of the rigged machines will continue to pour money into the owners pockets to help finance continued fights to keep the machines running.
One person pretty distressed about all this, needless to say, is Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Danny Craig. When South Carolina killed video poker and banned the machines from its state, Craig saw Georgia lawmakers moving far too slowly to keep the games from migrating across the river.
He was right. Within weeks, video poker popped up in border towns, and spread throughout the state like a rapidly metastasizing cancer.
Rather than wait on the glacially-slow progress of the Legislature, Craig cracked down in his own circuit - Columbia, Richmond and Burke counties - guiding law enforcement officials to seize illegally operated machines. While lawmakers friendly to the gambling industry bought time for video poker, Craig creatively interpreted the law to clear out the Augusta circuit.
inally, under intense pressure from Georgia citizens, religious groups and law enforcement agencies, Gov. Roy Barnes pushed the video poker ban through the special session of the Georgia Legislature last fall. Ding-dong, the video poker witch was dead, with the ban taking effect Dec. 31.
Thanks to Fulton County Superior Court Judge John Goger, however, video poker has been brought back to life. Goger ruled that the ban is too broad and unconstitutional; Barnes has already ordered Attorney General Thurbert Baker to appeal.
Meanwhile, like some ill-conceived Frankensteins monster, the game again stalks the state - except in the Augusta circuit, where none of the game owners are foolish enough to tangle with Craig.
Craig fumes about the delay of the ban bought with Gogers ruling, but is confident Georgia will eventually be free of the machines and their costly, corrupting influence. We have little doubt the Court of Appeals will reverse Judge Gogers decision, Craig says. Well be fine. Its just going to take more time. In the meantime, he probably has done an injustice to those who will misunderstand his order as authorizing gambling, and will cause many folks to engage in behavior for several weeks that will jeopardize their assets.
Thats also a concern of Columbia Countys own Linda Schrenko, a candidate for governor, who worries that the ruling will take food off the table of families and children in Georgia and put it into the hands of professional gambling interests.
Fortunately, with Craig on the job, that wont happen locally. But Craig isnt the DA for the entire state, and in other areas with weak enforcement, video poker will be able to operate as under-the-table gambling with the implied protection of a misguided, hands-off court ruling.
In spite of the enormous benefits Columbia County residents receive, the states lottery is bad enough. Poor people play it disproportionately, putting their money into the pockets of better-off HOPE recipients. But at least somebody benefits; with video poker, only the owners benefit - and the state doesnt even tax the machines income.
While gambling is a bad bet all around, my money is on Craig and the rest of the states prosecutors to continue pushing for the video poker ban. And when they win, the rest of Georgia will, too.
(Barry L. Paschal is opinions editor of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.