Mark Washburn

There’s a great lesson in video poker

Video poker machines are illegal again in North Carolina, but the General Assembly is wondering whether a state lottery game based on video terminals would be good.
Video poker machines are illegal again in North Carolina, but the General Assembly is wondering whether a state lottery game based on video terminals would be good. SCOTT SHARPE

I never thought I’d see the day, but it is here – we have driven from our ramparts the hideous scourge of video poker.

Hooting their come-hither siren songs like circus calliopes and flickering the promise of instant riches, those rapacious gambling devices have been vanquished by law from taverns and convenience stores.

We all know the reason they were outlawed. Video poker is often described as the crack-cocaine of gambling.

Fast, easy and accessible, it offers instant feedback and reward. It skins the player with such remarkable efficiency that it is whispered even some Baptists have been snared by its electro-magnetism.

So we are at last free of that blight.

Now, let’s bring it back.

Oh, you didn’t think all that about bad, bad, bad video poker was true, true, true?

Oh, little lamb. Wake up and smell the money. It’s only bad if someone else is getting rich off it.

Now that the competition has been eliminated, our lawmakers in Raleigh are stroking their chins and hmmmm-ing at the prospect of getting into the video poker racket. They’ve already got a Department of Long Odds called the N.C. Education Lottery that can run the skim.

There’s no doubt there’s a market. Every Saturday night people line up for tickets with 13 million-to-1 odds. You have a better chance of getting hit by lightning.

When they were around, people played the gray-market “sweepstakes” video gambling machines like concert pianists. They’re ready for a new round.

I don’t care whether the General Assembly approves the idea. I win the lottery every week by not playing.

But I’m like many who wonder where the lottery riches go. It goes into education, for sure, but you can’t point to a single improvement it has made because it just disappears into the vast maw of the budget.

It’s like a guy pouring a bucket of water into Lake Wylie. “Look, it’s bigger,” he beams, returning to the spigot for another pail.

Video gaming would let us fix the mistake we made when the lottery was approved in 2005. We could mark off the video money for something tangible – college scholarships.

West Virginia decided to get into video gaming in 2001, allowing them in places with alcohol licenses. It set aside a portion of the video take for college scholarships, about $29 million a year.

Any West Virginia student with a B average and good SAT scores is eligible for a full-tuition college Promise Scholarship to in-state public or private college. About 30,000 students qualify annually.

This reduces the burden on parents, cuts student loan debt and benefits even private colleges. And I suspect it gives parents incentive to make sure the homework gets done every night.

Video gaming would be a bad thing with a good outcome. At least someone would be a winner.

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