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Editorial: State is dealt a bad hand

When it comes to the possible resuscitation of legalized video poker across North Carolina, Democracy North Carolina’s Bob Hall offers a biting appraisal of just how bad a hand the state has suddenly been dealt.
If a judge’s order overturning the state’s ban on the electronic gaming machines is upheld, it will open “a Pandora’s box of mischief and miscreants,” according to Hall. “Video poker has rightly been labeled the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling.”
To refresh your memory, Hall’s group was one of the earliest and strongest voices raised against video poker and its unsavory influences. It’s bad for people with a weakness for gambling, and it has an especially pernicious effect on weak-willed politicians. Lest anyone has forgotten how its tentacles can reach deeply into state government, former state Transportation Secretary Garland Garrett was convicted of running an illegal gambling operation involving video poker, and the federal investigation that brought down former House Speaker Jim Black started with contributions to Black from the video poker industry. The video-poker hall of shame also includes former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford, serving hard time for taking up to $300,000 in bribes to protect illegal gambling while he was sheriff.
It isn’t clear yet how Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning’s decision will play out. It’s a complicated case involving state law, federal statutes governing tribal gambling and agreements between states and sovereign entities like the Eastern Cherokees. In brief, Manning ruled that the state’s video poker ban was invalid because it doesn’t apply to video-poker machines in casinos operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The judge stayed his own ruling to give the state time to prepare an appeal. Perhaps Manning also realizes what a Pandora’s box he’s raised the lid on, since this decision could jeopardize similar bans in other states with tribal casinos.
In the best-case scenario, the video-poker ban would be upheld by a higher court. If that doesn’t happen, look for a bruising battle that could overshadow the slugfest that went on before the legislature passed the video-poker ban in 2006. The Cherokee casino, operated under the aegis of Harrah’s, brings in millions of dollars per year for western North Carolina and boosts tourism spending beyond the reservation’s borders. Any move to extend the video-poker ban to casinos will undoubtedly encounter fierce opposition. There’s already been a suggestion ó from video-poker advocates, naturally ó that the reasonable solution is to drop the ban and go back to the bad old days. As any number of N.C. sheriffs will testify, that’s a horrible idea.
What plays on the reservation should stay on the reservation. Or not play at all.

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