Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson Vetoes a Bill to End Gambling Raids on Video Slot Machines
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson voted a bill which would have stipped regulators of the ability to enforce laws on video slot machines. The move is designed to stop the proliferation of Mom-and-Pop gas stations across the state which allow VSLs.
Cody Hiland, the prosecutor for the 20th Judicial District, spoke of the video slot machines which have appeared at convenience stores in Faulkner County. Hiland said, “The problem is this violates the public policy of the state of Arkansas.”
Allows ABC to Enforce Gaming Laws
Mr. Hiland praised Gov. Hutchinson’s veto, saying that it would have forced ABC agents to ignore a basic duty of law enforcement officers. Hiland said, “The idea that an agency that enforces the law very well has its wings clipped just because it enforces the law is antithetical to everything we stand for.”
The traditional regulatory agency of banned gambling in such locations is the Alcohol Beverage Control. The proposed law would have stripped the Alcohol Beverage Control from enforcing laws against video slot machines in places where alcohol is sold.
Hutchinson: Cannnot “Ignore Illegal Conduct”
A majority of lawmakers backed such legislation, but Gov. Hutchinson believed it was his duty to ensure standard law enforcement procedures were maintained. The governor said in a public statement that he vetoed the bill because it “would require law enforcement officers to ignore illegal conduct.”
Harassment of Local Businesses and Nonprofits
To that, the proponents of the bill said they wanted to stop the harassment of local businesses and nonprofits by law enforcement. To supporters, a local business should be supported, not made the focus of a law enforcement action.
Also, lawmakers wanted to pass the bill, because it allows local business owners to make additional cash on the side by placing a few gaming machines in their establishment. In a time when small businesses have a hard time competing with convenience store chains, video slot machines are seen as a way to give Mom-and-Pop stores a chance to stay in business. Keeping a few businesses in local hands is seen, in turn, as a good thing for small towns in Arkansas.
Legislators from dry counties sometimes resent the current legal situation, because the ABC does not operate in their counties. Enforcement falls to their local law enforcement, which requires resources and manpower.
No Cash for Prize Winners
Business owners who offer video slot maching gaming claim their operations are legal, because they do not offer cash prizes to winners. It’s an argument made by proprietors since shortly after the first Liberty Bell slot machines appeared in saloons in 1895. Slot machines were banned in San Francisco after they first appeared in stores, because they offered cash prizes.
To skirt laws, saloon owners offered bubble gums, candy, free drinks, and fruit (the origin of the term “fruit machines”). Eventually, though, the earliest slot machines were banned entirely. Thus, Gov. Hutchinson’s action follows a 120-year tradition in law enforcement.
Pay in Gas and Groceries
Gas stations which house video slot machines allow players to use winnings to pay for groceries, gas, or other items at the store. Because they do not offer cash the way a casino operator would, they do not view the gaming as “gambling”, per se.
Cody Hiland sees the issue as a simple matter of right and wrong. Gaming machines are illegal in Arkansas, no matter what the stake is. Hiland added, “You can’t give things of value in exchange for a game of chance. That’s what’s happening here.”
One reason some law enforcement do not like video slot machines is it is hard to enforce. The temptation of store owners to offer cash winnings is great, because law enforcement officers are not likely to know for a while what is happening.
8-Liners in Texas Stores
Convience stores across the border in Texas, especially in East Texas and South Texas, are known to offer gaming on machines called 8-Liners or maquinerias. They were an outgrowth of a 1993 “fuzzy animals” bill, which made it legal to offer stuffed animals at Chuck E. Cheese-type franchises. In so many cases, though, the 8-Liner owners have offered cash for prizes, which in turn led to a raid by state and local law enforcement.
In those cases, a local business owner goes from a pillar of local society to a criminal. The businesses close, while a businessman is lucky if they avoid jail time. That brings to mind another reason video slot machines are considered dangerous by men like Cody Hiland — they lend themselves to tax evasion.
Arkansas Gambling Laws
To Cody Hiland, the answer to the quandary is simple: legalize and regulate such gaming, if you want it to be legal. The Faulkner County prosecutor said, “If the legislature has a problem with the gambling enforcement, they need to make gambling legal.”