Wyomingites for a Better Economy Today and Tomorrow
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The New Mexico Coalition Against Gambling is concerned about recent technological developments in Class II Gaming devices (i.e., video bingo machines, and electronic pull tabs) and their approval by courts and states.  Some of the giants of slot machine manufacture, GTECH, Sierra Design Group, and IGT's Sodak are developing new and radically innovative slot machines that meet many states’ statutory definitions for bingo.

  The New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee met recently to consider the impact of such machines on tribal gambling.  This is a valid consideration, but they need to cast a much wider net in their investigation.  Video bingo machines can have a much wider application than tribal gambling alone.  Wyoming, West Virginia, Utah and other states have seen social clubs and Bingo halls introduce video Bingo machines to increase the gambling income of the organization, and skirt legal prohibitions against traditional slot machines. 

  As is quoted in the May 23, 2004 Gambling Magazine, “The one common element to all these inventions is the drive to have gaming devices that play like modern slot machines, without actually being slot machines. Video bingo machines, for example, now can display the exact same symbols as casino slot machines; but the actual game being played must meet the legal definition of bingo.”

The New Mexico Coalition Against Gambling has had legal counsel look at the New Mexico Bingo and Raffle Act to see how tight the definitions have been drawn for the “legal definition of bingo.”  It appears that the definitions are pretty clear and straightforward.  However, the attorney general and the legislature better have them looked at from every angle, because it is certain that there are those businesses and organizations in the state that would love to find a loose clause that they could use to justify operating Class II bingo machines at their clubs.

Their reasons for wanting to operate such machines are compelling.  Right now bingo halls are required to render 3% of their revenue to the state.  And getting permission for operating bingo halls from the state is fairly easy.  Non-profits that operate Class III video slot machines have to pay the state 25%, and getting licenses to operate them is much more difficult, and regulation is much more stringent.

The state legislature better be completely certain that they have their Bingo definitions down so tight and springy that there is no possibility of these outfits slipping slot-look-alike Bingo machines into their halls.  Many states were certain they knew what constituted Class III slot machines at tribal casinos, only to find out that electronic gambling devices that looked and played almost identical to Class III slots would be approved as Class II gaming devices by the federal courts.

And while they are tightening up definitions, they ought to look at the lottery and racetracks for future reference.  Many states have morphed their paper lotteries into VLT’s, video lottery terminals, many of which provide such games as poker, blackjack and crazy eights.  Again, for all practical purposes, identical with casino-style video slot machines, but technically not classified as slot machines.  Other states allow their racetracks to operate OTB’s, off track betting parlors, where the patrons can bet not only on the day’s state run races and simulcasts from other states’ tracks, but also operate slot-like machines that provide “instant races,” betting on eight to ten races a minute.

As usual, the gambling “industry” never has “enough.”  We should expect the tribes, the Bingo halls, the social clubs, the veterans and fraternal organizations, the tracks and the lottery to attempt to take advantage of the legal haze that hangs over slot-like machines, and expand wherever they can get away with it.  The state needs to prepare by tightening up its laws on electronic gambling devices and prosecuting those that violate those laws to the fullest extent of the law.

Dr. Guy C. Clark, executive director
New Mexico Coalition Against Gambling