Silencing South Carolina slots

Video poker: Machines must go, court rules, though fight to keep them in convenience stores isn't over.

October 17, 1999

THOSE who fear the evils of ubiquitous gambling at every corner store need look no further than South Carolina for a glaring example of the dangers.

Thirty-four thousand video-poker slot machines, in hundreds of convenience stores, gas stations and even in laundromats, blanket the state. It's a $2.8 billion industry built on greed and corruption.

Anti-gambling advocates breathed a giant sigh of relief last week when that state's Supreme Court invalidated a Nov. 2 referendum on slots, and in the process set the stage for their mandated elimination next July 1. South Carolina's governor and its House speaker said the court's ruling settled the matter.

But as that noted baseball philosopher, Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra, once put it: "It ain't over till it's over."

Slots forces won't unplug their machines without a fight. They poured $3 million into Jim Hodges' winning campaign for governor last year (half his total treasury) to defeat incumbent David Beasley, who declared video gambling a "cancer" in South Carolina. Now their targets will be state legislators.

They want lawmakers in the state capital to delay the July 1 shutdown or overturn the ban completely. Arm-twisting will be intense. Gambling groups, facing extinction, won't lack for financial might or survivalist determination.

Churches and local businesses, which had united to oppose slots in the upcoming referendum, must do so again. Video poker is destroying South Carolina's image. Stories of people pouring all their pay and life savings into these electronic machines are numerous -- and frightening.

Unrestricted slot-machine gambling is an invitation to corruption and addiction. Putting video poker in neighborhood stores can destroy families and do infinite harm to a community's sense of value. It is an evil that government should not tolerate -- in South Carolina, Maryland or anywhere else.

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