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Louisiana Shuts Down Video Poker

July 1, 1999

GONZALES, La. (AP) _ Nearly one-third of Louisiana’s 15,000 video poker machines fell silent at 12:01 a.m. Thursday in one of the nation’s biggest rollbacks of legalized gambling.

Voters in 33 Louisiana parishes voted 2 1/2 years ago to get rid of the machines, which are set up at truck stops, bars, racetracks, casinos and other locations. Thirty-one parishes voted to keep them.

A total of 4,874 of the devices were simultaneously turned off after midnight by a computer program at State Police headquarters.

``Of course I play. It’s fun,″ said Joy Clark from the Cajun Circus Casino, where 50 machines were shut down. ``It’s a good thing to do. But a lot of people come in to try to pay the mortgage. That’s when it doesn’t work.″

Opponents hailed the shutdown as evidence that states can remove entrenched forms of gambling.

On Wednesday, lawmakers in South Carolina, the state with the most video gambling machines, at 34,000, approved a bill to let voters decide whether to ban the games.

Such a ban had been sought by former South Carolina Gov. David Beasley, who called the machines the ``crack cocaine of gambling″ in 1998. Several months earlier, on a sweltering day, a 10-day-old girl suffocated after being left in a car while her mother gambled at a video poker casino.

Beasley, a Republican, was defeated in 1998 by Gov. Jim Hodges, who received critical support from the video gambling industry.

The Louisiana shutdown is possibly the largest since the spread of legalized gambling in the late 1980s. The Legislature legalized the machines in 1991, and they went into operation the following year.

But in 1996, lawmakers called for a parish-by-parish vote on video poker after critics said the machines were being played mostly by local residents and sucked money out of local economies.

The machines will remain on riverboat casinos in and around New Orleans, Shreveport, Baton Rouge and Lake Charles.

Some machine owners marked the shutdown with parties for their customers. Others let the night pass quietly.

``I don’t think there’s any reason to celebrate something that’s been so important to us,″ said Bruce VanZandt, who owns the Sundown Tavern in Ruston.

State police estimate state and local governments will lose $72 million a year in taxes from the shutdown.

In Ascension Parish, taxes from video poker helped pay for a retirement home, a new town hall and new police cars.

Patsy Keenan, manager of LaFonda’s Restaurant and Lounge in Baton Rouge, said she will have to raise her menu prices.

``I’m losing almost 10 percent of my business with video poker, and I’m not taking back my employees’ salaries,″ she said.