by Amanda Smith
With the passage of House Bill 487 on April 10, 2013, the Georgia Lottery Corporation assumed responsibility from the Georgia Department of Revenue for regulation of all coin-operated amusement machines (COAMS) in the state of Georgia. The intention of HB487 is to stop the payout of cash to winners playing slot machines in convenience stores and to insure that the Ga. Hope and Pre-K programs receive their percentage of all cash put into the machines. This is a lofty and admirable goal, but one has to wonder when enforcement of the bill will go into effect.
It is common knowledge that it is illegal for convenience store operators to rewards winners with cash payouts. It is also well-known in the gambling community that once a person has gambled in a store for a couple of days, the clerk is willing to pay cash to the winners. There is absolutely no regulation of this practice - something House Bill 487 was designed to address and correct.
Anyone can Google HB487, but will find decoding of it difficult. Thirty pages of legal jargon can leave the mind boggling, but the essence of the bill states that store owners must provide to the Georgia Lottery Corporation gross and net receipts for all money going into the machines and gross receipts for the business location, on a monthly basis. This income information should be submitted electronically on the 20th day of each month for the prior month, beginning on August 20, 2013. If this were done, the Georgia Lottery would know exactly how much money was put into the machines and if any cash payouts were given to winners. In fact, all machines are supposed to be linked to a central state-run computer by 2023.
In the February issue of The Informer, the playing of convenience store slot machines was compared to an addiction to crack cocaine. As a practice that millions engage in on a daily basis, gambling on convenience store machines has become the pastime of anyone with a dollar who seeks the thrill of a possible big win. The common lament of those leaving the store is "why did I spend every dollar I had on that stupid machine?"
"I put $700 in a machine and I never got ahead," said Alice. "I lost every dollar of my house payment and I feel so stupid. I felt like they had changed the machine to make it harder to hit anything - I had won on that very machine a few days before, so I thought it would hit eventually for something," she continued. "I think the store owners change the machines once somebody wins to make it harder to win the next time." The new crack cocaine.
"Every day, I tell myself I'm only gonna play $5 but I always end up spending everything I have in my purse when I walked in the door," said Janice, a slot machine addict who plays daily at a convenience store in east Macon. "I've tried to save a little money so I can come back the next day, but I just can't. My mind won't let me stop. And if somebody sitting next to me wins, I wait for them to leave so I can get on the "lucky" machine," she continued. "I know it doesn't make sense, but I just can't stop." The new crack cocaine.
Whether or not the retailer changes the machines to make them harder to win on is beside the point. Christian groups across the state strongly opposed the passage of HB487, citing the fact that gambling destroys lives and that now one can gamble all day next to the milk and bread. "Gamblers are the most optimistic people," said Jerry Luquire, President of the Georgia Christian Coalition. "They must be, knowing the odds are against them in any gambling venture. So they prepare for tomorrow’s customers by making sure young folks feel at home around gambling and seeing Mom and Dad dropping money in machines," he continued. "Much more visual than purchasing pieces of cardboard (lottery tickets). At least in casinos, those under 18 are not admitted. Not so at your local gambling store."
When asked about enforcement of the legislation and/or penalties for illegal activities, Tandi Reddick of the Georgia Lottery Corporation responded, "Specifics regarding COAM compliance and penalties are outlined in HB 487; a copy of the legislation can be found on the retailer page of the Georgia Lottery website (www.galottery.com). The Georgia Lottery will adhere to the letter and intent of the law," she continued. "A public tip line has been established to report COAM fraud or abuse at 855-515-0004."
Rogue store owners do not report the machine's earnings to the Department of Revenue (or the Georgia Lottery Corporation now) and the education of our youth takes the hit. If the state of Georgia is going to allow gambling on convenience store slot machines, then the revenue should at least go where it’s supposed to be going - education.