Never forget the lesson of video poker

Cindi’s column today (“The danger of video gambling isn’t the gambling“) about the problem with video gambling in SC today contained a paragraph that she would keep on a SAVE/GET key* if she still had one:

Video gambling was born of corruption. A powerful state senator, who would escape federal extortion charges only by dying before the indictments could be issued, slipped what he called a “technical” change into state law that legalized one of the most addictive forms of gambling on earth. Over the next decade, the rogue industry grew into one of the most potent political forces in our state by ignoring what meager laws we had and pumping hundreds of millions of dollars of its ill-gotten gains into political campaigns. At its heyday, it was admitting to revenue equal to half the state budget. It managed to take out a governor and nearly take over the Legislature.

The “powerful state senator,” of course, was Jack Lindsay, of Bennettsville, my hometown. And the way he got the “technical” change into law was via a proviso. Provisos are of course a terrible way to make state law, precisely because they’re a great way to sneak something past one’s colleagues.

What a lot of my readers — such as Bud — fail to understand about video poker is that the problem wasn’t the gambling, per se. Although it was indeed a particularly insidious and addictive form of gambling. The reason The State‘s editorial board turned against it was the way we saw it undermine and corrupt the legislative process. Toward the end, it was rare for lawmakers ever to dare try to effectively regulate or tax it, because they knew they’d face well-financed primary opposition if they did. (Which is why in recent years you’d sometimes see references to “school choice” as a latter-day video poker.)

They looked upon the fate of David Beasley and trembled. And despite what our governor thinks, a trembling Legislature is not actually a “beautiful thing.”

48 thoughts on “Never forget the lesson of video poker

  1. Brad

    * I think I’ve explained this before, but SAVE/GET keys were these special keys that we had on our dumb terminals back in the newspaper’s mainframe days. They were handy. They enabled you to type your byline with a single keystroke, or similarly insert boilerplate copy that you’d otherwise have to retype a lot. For instance, every time the WSJ mentions News Corp, its reporters have to type something like “News Corp.’s publishing assets include The Wall Street Journal” by way of disclosure. They’d probably enjoy having a SAVE/GET key, retro as they are.

    Reply
  2. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    I sure hope Cindi gets to keep on fighting the good fight. I have learned a lot from the ed. pages of The State. She’s especially good at backing up her assertions with facts, so even if you disagree with her (I cannot recall doing so), you are hard-pressed to justify it!

    Reply
  3. Doug Ross

    Is this post in response to the rumored big story that is in the works about several current legislators with close ties to illegal video poker machines? I know Will Folks, WIS, and the Free Times have been involved in digging out the details.

    Reply
  4. Steven Davis II

    IF what FitsNews and the Free Times is true, the Lexington Mafia is doing a little more than trembling. WIS is investigating this hard right now and I do believe we’ll either start seeing bodies or high profile people going to jail within the next year.

    Reply
  5. Barry

    Yes, from what I can tell – WIS is looking into this pretty seriously.

    I hope they can get the tapes and play them on the air- then try to get some comments from Jake Knotts, and Randy Halfacre who apparently doesn’t know anything about anything from since he’s not “aware.”

    It’s too bad The State paper couldn’t have broke this story. This would have been a great Sunday front pager. But glad the Free Times did the work.

    Reply
  6. bud

    Let’s just legalize the machines and then, by definition, there won’t be any corruption. Sheesh, talk about the tail wagging the dog. Try substituting the term “coffee shop” for “video poker” whenever this comes up just to see how utterly ridiculous this whole thing is.

    Reply
  7. Steven Davis II

    Barry – The Free Times is the only investigative newspaper in Columbia. The State does little more than repeat news from other sources.

    Reply
  8. Steven Davis II

    bud – I’m confused. You are against poor people from paying more in taxes but are in favor of legalizing video poker. Who more likely to plays these things… people in Heathwood or people in Redbank? People can do what they want with their money, but I don’t want them coming around looking for handouts because they threw their whole week’s paycheck into a video poker machine.

    Reply
  9. bud

    People can do what they want with their money, but I don’t want them coming around looking for handouts because they threw their whole week’s paycheck into a video poker machine.
    -SDII

    Let’s play spin the words:

    People can do what they want with their money, but I don’t want them coming around looking for handouts because they threw their whole week’s paycheck into expensive lattes and capuccinoes at a coffee shop.

    See how much fun this is.

    Reply
  10. Steven Davis II

    bud – I don’t see a difference. If they throw their money into a video machine or throw it away drinking coffee I still don’t want them asking me for money.

    BTW – This whole “coffee house” thing you’re trying makes no sense. Gambling is a vice, and so is caffeine so what’s the difference?

    Reply
  11. Doug Ross

    You can’t logically allow a government run lottery system and then try and make the argument that video poker machines can negatively impact the poor.

    The state doesn’t want legalized gambling because it will cut into their monopoly.

    I’m for legalizing it all. Horse racing in Camden, casinos in Myrtle Beach, sports betting anywhere…

    I mean all I hear is that luck plays such an important role in ones success in life, why not give everyone more opportunities to get lucky? If you don’t want to work to achieve succes, just take the easier luck option.

    Reply
  12. bud

    SD II. That IS my point. Both are vices. But some folks like Brad want to restrict one while openly encouraging the consumption of the other. And I find that offensive.

    Reply
  13. Brad

    Whom are you addressing, Doug? Certainly not me. Nothing I’ve said comes even close to the points you’re arguing with.

    At no time have I indicated anything but staunch opposition to the state operating a lottery.

    What reason did I just give for opposing video poker? It wasn’t “that video poker machines can negatively impact the poor.” For one thing, I would never use “impact” as a verb. :)

    The entire POINT of this post was… here, let me repeat my words just above…

    “What a lot of my readers — such as Bud — fail to understand about video poker is that the problem wasn’t the gambling, per se. Although it was indeed a particularly insidious and addictive form of gambling. The reason The State’s editorial board turned against it was the way we saw it undermine and corrupt the legislative process. Toward the end, it was rare for lawmakers ever to dare try to effectively regulate or tax it, because they knew they’d face well-financed primary opposition if they did. (Which is why in recent years you’d sometimes see references to “school choice” as a latter-day video poker.)”

    PLEASE read what I write before reacting to it, folks. Bud especially. How could you write “Let’s just legalize the machines and then, by definition, there won’t be any corruption,” after actually having read what I wrote.

    The problem was not, was NOT, WAS NOT that video poker was illegal. The problem was not only that it was LEGAL, but that it threw off EVERY effort to regulate or tax it. It did this through lawsuits, and through intimidating the Legislature. By the end, it was so very politically powerful that it had to go.

    Reply
  14. Brad

    Oh, and this back and forth about it being a “vice” is also completely aside from the point. So don’t strain yourself trying to compare it to other “vices,” since that’s not the argument in front of you.

    Reply
  15. Brad

    I mean, come on, people. You don’t have to go blind studying this. Just read the headline of the column that inspired to post. I’ll repeat it: “The danger of video gambling isn’t the gambling.”

    Reply
  16. Doug Ross

    I don’t agree with your premise. David Beasley lost because he was a terrible governor… maybe worse than Haley.

    Anyway, are you suggesting that illegal video poker operations with ties to politicians don’t exist now? And that those same politicians don’t accept campaign donations from the people who run the illegal poker operations?

    The only difference I see is that the state is no longer getting a cut of the activity. The corruption is still there.

    Anytime money and laws mix, corruption follows.

    Reply
  17. bud

    The danger of cappiccino isn’t the caffeine.

    Seriously Brad, this gets so tiresome. You are simply obtuse on this. Just legalize it just like any other so-called vice then this whole corrupting the legislature stuff just goes away. If it’s legal and taxed at a reasonable level then there’s no incentive to bribe the legislators. Not sure why that point is so difficult to comprehend.

    Reply
  18. Brad

    Yes, Bud — it does get tiresome. Exhausting, in fact, for me to take the trouble to present an argument, and for you to keep arguing with something I did not say.

    Doug, at least, has focused on a facet of the argument, which I appreciate.

    Doug, David Beasley deserved to lose because he was not a good governor. Perhaps that even played a role in voters’ reasoning in voting against him. It would be encouraging to think so.

    But the point here, of course, is separate from that. The point here is how Beasley’s defeat was perceived by lawmakers. In the State House, the perception was that he had dared to oppose video poker, and video poker had done him in. There were other narratives, of course. One was that he was defeated for having oh-so-briefly and oh-so-tentatively supported the idea of getting the Confederate flag off the dome. And you know, maybe there were people stupid enough to vote against him on that basis, even though it made no sense — he backed off that position so fast it could produce whiplash.

    No, the factor that legislators saw was the video poker money that backed Jim Hodges. They were genuinely afraid of crossing video poker. I always thought their characterization of what happened to Beasley was oversimplified, but that doesn’t change the way it played.

    Reply
  19. Brad

    And if you were Jim Hodges, listening to Kevin Geddings, you thought you had beaten Beasley for three reasons:
    — All that video poker money played a role (although Jim later made a point of turning against the industry)
    — His 180-degree turn from being one of the most articulate opponents of a state lottery to being its greatest champion (It was because of this that, although we’d always thought him a good lawmaker, we could not support his election.)
    — Kevin Geddings was such a political genius. Just ask him; he’d tell you…

    Reply
  20. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    I think the danger of video gambling, and cocaine, is the video gambling and the crack cocaine, as the case may be. The highly addictive nature, the whole physiological response to the instant and intense hit, means that few people can afford their habits, unlike less intense ‘vices’ like alcohol, marijuana and the lottery. They often need to support their habit through criminal activities. The inelasticity of demand makes it extremely profitable,and the extreme profitability makes these enterprises prone to corrupt activities.

    Reply
  21. bud

    I’m going to make one more swing at this. I start with the premise that freedom is precious and worth defending. I regard video poker as an entertainment medium that should be legal. IF a politician in corrupted by the operators of video poker venues the problem is with the politician, and that particular video poker operator. Using this alleged “corruption” issue as an excuse to ban something that SHOULD be legal is a red herring, non-sequetor, irrelevancy.

    Again, if coffee houses were corrupting the general assembly NO ONE, especially Brad, would propose outlaw coffee houses. You may ban a specific coffee house and indict the politicians who were corrupt but the overall coffee house industry would continue to function. Simply put this is a freedom issue not, I repeat adamantly NOT a corruption issue.

    Reply
  22. Brad

    Tell you what, Bud… when the coffee industry starts trying to buy the Legislature and drive an agenda the way video poker and school “choice” have, get back to me and we’ll hash out what to do about it.

    Reply
  23. Brad

    And Kathryn’s right, of course — to the extent that gambling is a problem (and for many people it is), video gambling has been shown time and again to be the most harmful one.

    Speaking of cocaine and addiction, allow me to go off on a complete digression…

    I had a psychology professor in college who told us that cocaine was not addictive. I believed that for years.

    She also told us that even when a drug was addictive, such as heroin, addiction was not a problem in and of itself. The only problem came when the addict could not afford his addiction, and turned to crime. The specific example she gave us of a functioning heroin addict was Sly Stone. (Lede of a 2011 Reuters news story: “Sly Stone, a reserved despondency fable whose career was crippled by prevalent drug abuse, pleaded not guilty to possession of heroin rocks on Wednesday.”)

    I guess she was sort of the poster child of the kind of college professor that conservative, protective parents fear — the sort who fills kids’ heads with harmful nonsense that counteracts everything their parents try to teach them.

    Except she didn’t look the part. She wasn’t a middle-aged white guy with a gray beard, wire-rimmed glasses and a corduroy jacket with leather patches on the elbows. She was a matronly, motherly Indian woman, who wore traditional Indian attire in the classroom.

    Reply
  24. Mark Stewart

    Bud hasn’t gotten near enough to the wrecked lives that sit at the consoles or to the corrupt kingpins who run these operations.

    Like your college professor, some people just have no clue about the underworld and it’s tides.

    Reply
  25. bud

    Mark there are plenty of people whose lives have been wrecked by alcohol, texting while driving, cigarettes, fatty foods, bad sex choices, a stint in Iraq, the education lottery and maybe even caffeine addiction. All of those wrecked lives are tragic events that are legal and in some cases actively promoted by government. So why pick on one area where a person can go tragically wrong and allow others to exist? Freedom is too precious to allow it to be thrown away so carelessly.

    Reply
  26. Doug Ross

    @Mark

    How many of those wrecked lives and corrupt kingpins still exist now that video poker is illegal?

    Making something illegal doesn’t make it go away. Especially when politicians and police are paid off to look the other way.

    I would guess that there are more wrecked lives due to alcohol than gambling.

    People with a hole in their soul will find a way to fill it.

    Reply
  27. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    People say cocaine isn’t addictive because unlike alcohol and heroin addictions, people cannot die from sudden withdrawal. It has, of course, been repeatedly shown to create permanent changes in brain circuitry and chemistry.

    Reply
  28. Matt Bohn

    On a simpler level I’d hate to go back to having to look at dozens and dozens of seedy video poker establishments. It always embarrassed me to have to drive anywhere with out of state visitors when poker was legal. Sad looking places in shady areas. A vibe of broken dreams and blight. It’s bad enough we still have this with the ubiquitous pay day lenders and cash for title places. Why double down on misery by letting poker come back? For the sake of community aBTW I’ve noticed a return of those hideous neon sign boards. Weren’t they outlawed a few years ago in Richland County? Just wondering.

    Reply
  29. Brad Warthen

    Interestingly, Matt, they’re so often the same places. Seedy video poker parlors became home to seedy predatory lenders…

    Reply
  30. bud

    I guess beauty (or ugly) is in the eye of the beholder. Whenever I ride down Knox Abbott Drive I’m aghast at how ugly all those fast food places look. Is there anything more hideous than an abandoned Taco Bell with weeds growing up around it? Give me a good ole video poker store any day. Besides if THAT is the problem simply pass an ordinance requiring a certain degree of community decorum that would apply to ALL businesses. Seems to work well on Hilton Head Island.

    Reply
  31. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    Matt is right: there are certainly not dozens of highly visible eyesore establishments purveying video poker, so I think there must be a whole lot less of it.

    Research shows that willpower isn’t a muscle, it’s an account, and the more one uses it during the course of a day, the more it gets depleted. Walk by a bakery repeatedly and you up the chances you’ll give in later in the day. Drive by a bunch of video poker parlors and you increase the chances you’ll blow the rent money.

    A lot of former smokers say that they were able to quit when it became increasingly difficult to smoke, and were successful because they could fairly easily avoid smokers.

    Reply
  32. Barry

    YOu can’t legislate video poker.

    South Carolina tried at one time- and the owners and operators proved time and time again they could not be trusted with even the most basic of regulations.

    How many times do you need to burn your hand before you relize the stove is hot?

    Obviously some people apparently want to burn their hand so many times a doctor has to cut it off.

    Reply
  33. Barry

    Bud wrote

    “Besides if THAT is the problem simply pass an ordinance requiring a certain degree of community decorum that would apply to ALL businesses. ”

    It’s apparent Bud hasn’t followed video poker operators and owners very long- and isn’t aware of their history of signing off on regulations- and then ignoring them – and then fighting very, VERY expensive court fights to rid those regulations.

    Reply
  34. bud

    If a business, any business disregards the law then prosecute that business and allow other businesses to provide the service. It wouldn’t take long for them to get the message. By outlawing the entire business we’re just throwing out the baby with the bathwater. If the general assembly is corrupt the voters can vote them out or they can be impeached. Seriously folks this is not about corruption, it’s about video poker. Let’s not complicate it.

    Reply
  35. Brad

    “It wouldn’t take long for them to get the message?” Wow. Bud, that is AMAZINGLY naive! The poker barons trampled over every attempt to regulate them, like the Nazis rolling over Poland. They fought in the courts and in the cowed Legislature, and kept operating as they pleased, as long as the Niagara of cash kept flowing. They could afford to do this because $3 billion a year was flowing through their machines — more money than South Carolinians were spending on, for instance, gasoline.

    Reply
  36. Barry

    Bud wrote

    “If a business, any business disregards the law then prosecute that business and allow other businesses to provide the service.

    Bud – it didn’t work that way.

    1) Video poker people have a lot of money.

    2) They ignored regulations

    3) then they fought the regulations in court fights, zoning, etc.

    4) Then they poured their money into candidates that supported their efforts to get rid of the regulations they signed off on

    You haven’t followed these guys very closely- or either don’t remember.

    They don’t want to be regulated.

    Reply
  37. Barry

    Goodness- video poker is outlawed in South Carolina now.

    But there isn’t a county in South Carolina that doesn’t have video poker machines operating right this very minute.

    If that doesn’t illustrate how video poker operators disregard the law, then you are either too naive or just ignore the obvious.

    Reply
  38. bud

    Barry, I’ve followed it closely but I just have a strong philosophical disagreement over outlawing it. To me it’s a freedom issue. Since I believe (strongly) that video poker should be legal, the same as beer, cigarettes, coffee shops and other things that can be abused then it becomes a matter of working through the problems.

    The cigarette companies abused their situation and essentially lied to the American people about the harm cigarettes caused. Given that SC is a big tobacco state they had a huge amount of control over the General Assembly and essentially were able to push their “drug” onto children, into public places (even hospitals) allowed exceptions to littering (it was ok to drop a cigarette butt on the ground). But over time the cigarette companies lost out and now we have a sensible environment that allows smoking without the abuses of big tobacco. The same will happen with video poker and that’s the way I think this should go.

    Reply
  39. bud

    I’ve argued here very stridently about the harm done by big pharma, big insurance, big banking, big tobacco and on and on. I don’t buy the nonsensical “guiding hand” philosophy of the libertarians. So to call me “naive” on this is ludicrous.

    On the other hand, I don’t cotton to the notion that government should be the nanny of personal behavior. Let people decide how and where to spend their money. And if our government is too spineless to act in accordance with the interests of the people then it’s a problem with our elected officials and ultimately the people who elect them, not video poker.

    Reply
  40. Barry

    Bud – that’s fine if your philosophy is against outlawing it.

    Let’s also decriminilize murder while we are at it and just people handle it themselves.

    But don’t pretend that we can regulate video poker.

    YOu’d be more consistent and make more sense if you simply said ” I am for government staying out of video poker – just let them do whatever they want to do”

    because that’s the way these sleaze balls work.

    Reply
  41. Barry

    Cigs and beer are national industries and issues – video poker isn’t. It’s a local and state issue.

    Video poker has a recent history of buying local and state wide elected leaders in South Carolina to undercut the very regulations they agreed to abide by. In other words, they routinely lie – and lie again.

    We don’t need to add to the list of problems – and thank goodness it’s illegal in South Carolina and that’s not going to change anytime in our lifetimes.

    and even now video poker doesn’t abide by our laws and regulations. Just this past week in Myrtle Beach, Horry County officials seized 20+ poker machines.

    That shows you what the video poker operators think of our state and our laws.

    Reply
  42. bud

    But don’t pretend that we can regulate video poker.
    -Barry

    Seriously? That’s such a defeatist attitude. Of course it can be done. We just need a general assembly and law enforcement entities with some gumption and character. As long as we elect people who will take bribes then you’re probably right we are beaten before we get started. But that would apply to anything, not just video poker. If we can make headway against the very powerful tobacco lobby then video poker should be a piece of cake.

    Reply
  43. Barry

    “That’s such a defeatist attitude. Of course it can be done. We just need a general assembly and law enforcement entities with some gumption and character”

    Video poker can’t be regulated. Repeated attempts have proven that’s impossible in South Carolina.

    “Defeatest” attitude it isn’t. Realistic attitude wrapped in repeated experience it is.

    Video poker operators are bent on cheating the system and lying because they suck on the bottom of society. That’s what they focus on. That’s where they spend their time. That’s their goal.

    An example of that is the very article Brad cites in this very topic thread.

    Reply
  44. Barry

    Per The State newspaper this morning

    Danny Fraizer is on the payroll of the Lexington County Sherrif’s Department, and the payroll of West Columbia as a part time consultant (and there may be more from what I am hearing).

    Metts is now supposedly investigating his activities because of the role he has in trying to land internet gambling cafe’s.

    Another example of how you can’t regulate this stuff because of the type of people it attracts.

    Reply
  45. Barry

    UPDATE- Wednesday morning

    If any of you follow Jody Barr from WIS News on twitter- you know that this morning he has a lot of tweets – and pictures of his investigation into this matter- Part 1 of his 3 part story is running tonight on WIS News.

    He’s posting some great pictures on twitter. Jody is doing a GREAT job on this one

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *