COLUMBIA — Last year, gambling supporters used the Senate’s Byzantine rules to run the clock on legislation that would have stymied the video gambling industry’s latest attempt to reconstitute itself. And so our state endured another six months of the re-emergent poker barons openly defying our law as their attorneys razzle-dazzled a couple of judges into ignoring a decade-old ban.
Our Legislature mustn’t let that happen again.
Already, gambling supporters are gearing up for a delay game. Last week, they argued disingenuously to postpone reporting the anti-gambling bill out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. We need time to study it, they argued. Why, it won’t hurt anything to wait a week, they argued. Please.
Gambling supporters know you don’t kill bills in the Senate by voting them down. You kill them by preventing a vote. And you do that with rules that let a single senator send a bill to the contested calendar, where it dies, except under two circumstances: when a supermajority of senators votes to leapfrog it over all other bills and debate it, and in the very first days of a new session, when the calendar is so short that a bare majority of senators can actually force a vote on contested bills.
Gambling opponents need to do that. This week.
Today, the anti-gambling bill is one of three on the calendar. Every day, the calendar will grow longer, and it will become more difficult for the majority to take up bills that a determined minority – even a minority of one – opposes.
Video gambling is not a thing to be trifled with. After it was surreptitiously legalized in the 1980s, it grew so big that it took out a governor and nearly terrified the Legislature into submission. It grew by ignoring unambiguous laws, then judge shopping and playing delay games, knowing it eventually would lose in court but that it could keep printing money – and using that money to frighten legislators into liberalizing our laws – as long as it delayed a final order.
In the “sweepstakes” games that are sweeping across our state, gamblers make a “donation” to a charity, or purchase a long-distance calling card or computer access, and in return they can play poker or some similar game on a machine to find out what they won in the accompanying “sweepstakes.”
Promoters created this facade because of a law that allows businesses with beer and wine permits to hold sweepstakes “in connection with the sale, promotion, or advertisement of a consumer product or service, or to enhance the brand or image of a supplier of consumer products or services.”
The arrangement has all the elements of gambling: Someone pays money to play a game with the possibility of winning something. It has the additional element that makes it a violation of our anti-video-gambling law: a machine into which a “thing of value” is inserted to allow game playing and winning.
The bill approved last week by the Judiciary Committee simply says the sweepstakes exception does not make legal that which another part of our law prohibits. That shouldn’t bother anyone who isn’t violating that other part of the law.
The Senate needs to take up this bill while it still can and endure the gambling supporters’ arguments as long as it takes to get to a vote, and then pass it. Then the House needs to pass it again. And perhaps then we can stop wasting our courts’ time playing Whac-a-Mole with the gambling machines.