Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Video Poker Ban Overturned Law Criminalizes Game, Judge Says

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Video Poker Ban Overturned Law Criminalizes Game, Judge Says

Article excerpt

Byline: Doug Gross, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- A Superior Court judge dealt state lawmakers a losing hand yesterday, overturning a video poker ban passed overwhelmingly by the legislature in September.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge John J. Goger issued a permanent injunction against the law, calling it "arbitrary, overbroad and overinclusive."

"However well-intentioned this legislation may be, it must be doomed," Goger wrote in the ruling. "The law criminalizes a game when it is being played and operated as a game.

"This is the sort of lawmaking which poses a real threat to liberty."

Gov. Roy Barnes asked Attorney General Thurbert Baker yesterday morning to immediately appeal Goger's ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court. The court could rule within days or months, depending on its own timetable, legal experts say.

Baker's staff is still reviewing the ruling to decide how to argue against it.

Goger wrote that the definitions used in the bill to describe gambling devices could be interpreted to also outlaw some "innocent" arcade games.

"These provisions . . . ban games that can be used for an innocent purpose (i.e. pure amusement) simply because they can also be used for 'evil' purposes (i.e. gambling)," Goger wrote.

Many lawmakers, who passed the ban during a special session of the legislature last year, were upset by the ruling.

"It's disappointing," said Sen. Mike Beatty, R-Jefferson, who last winter was an early voice calling for a video poker ban. "But these types of illicit industries who have the kind of money they do do not die easy."

While using the machines for gambling has always been illegal, critics say that law was routinely broken -- particularly after a ban in South Carolina pushed thousands of the games into Georgia's border communities.

Existing state laws, they said, were full of loopholes that made it difficult to prosecute people who use the games to pay cash prizes. …

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