NO ONE should be surprised to see that Sen. Robert Ford is blocking Senate debate of legislation to close what some judges think is a loophole in our state’s anti-gambling law. To the contrary, the fact that the old video-gambling industry’s most brazen advocate would rush to the defense of an industry that protests that it’s really not gambling goes a long way toward demonstrating that it is, in fact, gambling.
As if we needed any demonstration. The so-called “sweepstakes” games are clearly gambling: People make what is called a donation to a charity, or purchase a long-distance calling card or computer access, and in return they receive an access number that allows them to play poker or some similar game on a machine to find out whether they won anything in the accompanying sweepstakes. Promoters worked to create this thin facade of a “sweepstakes” — they say this is no different from the sweepstakes ticket people receive when they buy a Big Mac — because of a law that authorizes sweepstakes promotions “in connection with the sale, promotion, or advertisement of a consumer product or service, or to enhance the brand or image of a supplier of consumer products or services.”
If that sounds at all interesting, then you probably think the lottery is interesting, but that’s another story. The fact is that this arrangement has all the elements of gambling: Someone pays money to play a game with the possibility of winning something. It also has the additional element that makes it a violation of our anti-video-gambling law: a machine into which a “thing of value” is inserted to allow game playing and winning to occur.
We doubt the state Supreme Court will be taken in by this ruse. But the Supreme Court was never snookered by the arguments of the old video-poker industry either — and still the poker barons managed to play delay games in the lower courts long enough to grow themselves into a $3 billion-a-year cash business with immense political power.
The bill Mr. Ford is blocking simply says the sweepstakes exception doesn’t legalize that which another part of our law makes illegal. That shouldn’t bother anyone who isn’t violating that other part of the law, and we can’t imagine that more than a handful of senators would vote against it. But they won’t have that opportunity unless the Senate votes by a two-thirds majority to give it one of the limited priority-debate slots. In fact, that vote will tell us far more than the vote on the bill itself (should we ever get to that point) about whether senators support or oppose the revival of the video gambling industry.
Senators have given priority debate status to far less important matters this year. Now it’s time for them to debate something important — to prevent our political system from again being corrupted and our state from again being overrun by the scourge of video gambling.