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    Chips Down in North Carolina

    State sheriffs frustrated over illegal video poker machines, lawmakers questioned over contributions.

    RALEIGH, N.C. -- All 100 North Carolina sheriffs have signed a petition calling on state lawmakers to outlaw video poker machines, which is currently legal in the state if machines meet a variety of requirements, including a maximum payout limit of $10 in merchandise.

    However, the sheriffs, 70 of whom visited the state legislature last week to lobby against the machines, argue that it is easy to make the machines pay out cash. Local law-enforcement departments, they said, don't have the manpower to find machines that are being used for illegal, unregulated gambling.

    Many of the state's convenience store owners operate regulated poker machines as a draw for adult customers, and have contributed money toward the campaigns of politicians supporting video poker, according to the Charlotte Observer.

    The sheriffs, along with prominent hard-line state conservatives and local media, are beginning to pressure the state legislature by arguing that those contributions have swayed their lawmaker's opinions in favor of organizations such as the North Carolina Amusements Machine Association.

    For example, in 1997, then-Attorney General Mike Easley wrote a legal opinion supporting video poker. The amusement machine industry and its lobbyists later gave Easley $124,000 in his successful 2000 run for governor.

    Although the pressure does not seem to be making state lawmakers sweat just yet ? only a half dozen legislators were willing to stand with the sheriffs at a news conference denouncing video poker ?- state conservatives may soon turn up the heat.

    "This is a moral issue," Rep. Joe Kiser, former Lincoln County Sheriff told the Charlotte Observer. "This is not a partisan issue."

    One result could ultimately be a complete banning of the machines, which were ousted by neighbor South Carolina in 2000.

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