Gaming Panel: Track's Poker Machines Not Illegal

by Hector San Miguel

The Louisiana State Gaming Control Board has ruled that video poker machines at Delta Downs in Vinton qualify as slot machines under state law. The board, in a 6-1 vote, denied a request from seven truck-stop casinos near Vinton to classify the 100 video poker machines at the track as illegal.

Truck stops in Louisiana are allowed to have 50 video poker machines in their establishments under state law. Delta Downs and state police contend the machines in question are slot machines, because they use a drop pan to distribute winnings instead of issuing a ticket for payment.

Board chairman Hillary Crain said he looked at different state laws pertaining to video poker devices and other definitions of slot machines.

"They do say...that the term 'video poker device' does not include a device that directly dispenses coins, cash, tokens, etc., as I understand these things do," Crain said. "I think we are left with a situation of saying, 'It's a slot machine if it dispenses coins or cash, and it's not a video poker device.' "

The truck-stop casinos filed a petition in May with the board for a declaratory judgment. It quoted the state's Pari-Mutuel Live Racing Facility Economic Redevelopment and Gaming Control Act.

"The operation of video draw poker shall be prohibited and may not be licensed to operate in any eligible facility in which slot machine gaming occurs," the petition read. It asked the board to "make a determination that the operation of any video poker not permitted under the applicable provisions" of the gaming control act.

Lucky Peacock Casino, Longhorn Casino, Nevada Magic Casino, Lucky Delta Casino, Texas Pelican Casino, Bayou Gold Casino, and Starks Dollar Casino sought the judgment.

Nancy Goodwin, an attorney representing the truck-stop casinos, told the board a change in state law last year stated slot machines could be a game of skill in addition to a game of chance. Goodwin said the legislature didn't appeal its prohibition of video poker machines at racetracks, even though there was a change in the law on the slot machine definition.

Assistant attorney general Tom Warner told the board there are "considerable differences" between video poker machines used in riverboat casinos and truck-stop casinos, bars, and restaurants. He said video poker and slot machines are regulated by two different divisions of the state police.

Warner said a legal question was raised in November 1996 after voters in East Baton Rouge Parish voted on whether to keep video poker and riverboat casinos. Voters decided to ban video poker in that parish, but the ban didn't affect the video poker slot machines on the riverboats in Baton Rouge, he said.

Paul West, attorney for Delta Downs owner Boyd Gaming, said the prohibition of video poker machines at the track is in effect. "If that prohibition was not there, Delta Downs could have 1,500 slot machines and another 1,500 video poker machines right behind it. So it does make a serious limitation on what can happen at the track's slot facilities," he said.

Rodney Burch, a Vinton businessman, told the board he and others supported Delta Downs in its efforts to get slot machines, but never intended for it to have video poker. Burch said the truck-stop casinos in Vinton are all losing business to the Delta Downs video poker machines.

"You've got people changing the laws that affect a lot of people's lives," said Burch, former owner of the Lucky Peacock Casino. "We will probably have to go through the legislature. We will not give it up."