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said he intends to continue to ask for more adjustments to

Source:sites edit:casino time:2018-03-28

Video poker's $185 million contribution to government gets spread among the district attorneys, attorney general, local parish governments, state police and some other functions. About $125 million of that cash also went into the state general fund in the 2015-2016 budget year, paying for K-12 schools, higher education and health care services.

The initial proposal also removed parking lot and restaurant regulations for video poker outlets and gave video poker operators the ability to sublease some of their business to other companies.

Even with the bill watered-down, the Family Forum still encouraged senators to vote against the proposal Tuesday -- irritating the video poker lobbyists who had negotiated with the group ahead of time. Gene Mills, the head of the Family Forum, said he intends to continue to ask for more adjustments to the proposal when it is taken up in the House.  

The first version of the video poker legislation also would have allowed for games other than poker to be played on the machines, though the technology to allow different games hasn't been developed yet, according to Ashy. 

"Otherwise we have what could be considered more of a casino and less of a truck stop," Mills said. "That is why we had these fuel sales to begin with." 

More than 13,000 video poker machines are in about 1,800 establishments across Louisiana. In excess of half are found at truck stops. Bars, restaurants and race tracks are also popular locations. Jefferson Parish has the most machines, with more than 1,700 operating, according to the Louisiana Gaming Control Board.

Video Poker lobbyist Alton Ashy said some truck stops had been struggling to maintain the minimum amount of fuel sales they had to make to keep their machines because new interstates and roads had been built that diverted traffic away from them.

Under the bill, video poker truck stops won't have to sell as much fuel as they do now after they have been in business for 10 years to keep their gambling machines. Currently, trucks stops have to sell 50,000 gallons of fuel per month to have 35 video poker devices; 75,000 gallons of fuel per month to have 45 devices; and 100,000 gallons of fuel per month to have 50 devices.

Mills said he would have to review the amended legislation before he could comment on whether he thinks it might still expand the type of games that can be played on machines.

Video poker at truck stops, alone, produce more money than Harrah's New Orleans casino. Net revenue from truck stop video poker was $402 million in 2015-2016, with $130 million going to state and local governments. At Harrah's, it was just $293 million, with $64 million going to government operations, according to the 2017 report.

The Office of the Attorney General told the video poker industry that they would need a constitutional amendment to add games that aren't considered video poker to the machines, Ashy said. That would require a ballot initiative in parishes where video poker operates currently, according to Ashy. He said the industry didn't want to pursue a ballot initiatives in several parishes to add more games to their machines at this point.

The gambling industry often touts the tourism, economic development and jobs its operations bring to the state. The state's riverboat casinos employed 13,900 Louisiana residents in the 2015-2016 budget cycle. About 46 percent of their 23 million visitors were from out of state, according to the 2017 report.

Mills and the Family Forum did manage to get several concessions though before the legislation passed. The original version of the bill permitted video poker truck stops that had been in business for 10 years to stay in business as long as they had fuel for sale at all. They didn't have to meet any minimum threshold of fuel sales to keep their machines in the original bill as they have to under the amended legislation.

The Louisiana House will now have a chance to take up the measure for consideration. Gov. John Bel Edwards is open to relaxing gambling regulations and could sign the bill if it gets approved.

Ashy said the changes to definition of video poker in the bill were purely sought for beefing up the graphics on the machines, and won't allow new games that aren't offered now to be played on them.   

Ashy said video poker operators will continue to push for the elimination of the restaurant restrictions through a different piece of legislation coming up in a House committee Wednesday. The video poker outlets would still be required to have a restaurant under the House legislation, but it wouldn't have to be open for a specified amount of time, he said.   

While riverboat casino regulations haven't changed significantly in over a decade, video poker operators have continuously gotten changes to the laws that govern their business operations over the last decade. Last year, the industry scored a  victory when the state started allowing gamblers to feed money into machines more quickly. Edwards and the Louisiana Legislature made it possible for video poker machines to take $100 bills, increasing the denomination limit from $20.

The video poker industry didn't get nearly the amount of regulations eliminated as they initially sought from the Senate. The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, said many of the changes initially proposed were ditched to accommodate the wishes of the Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative Christian group that is against gambling and has a lot of sway with conservative legislators.

Senate Bill 184 would allow a wider variety of screens on the video poker machines for "entertainment purposes" and more decks of cards to be used when a person is playing multiple hands. It also removes a prohibition on video line-up games and mechanical reel games from the legal definition of video poker found in state law.


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