April 19, 2003 Robert E. Huckabee III, Southland Gaming president,says once video lottery terminals are in full operation, the territory will soon see the economic benefits of the machines about $15 million a year; the same amount the government would have owed Southland if the Senate had voted to repeal the VLTs.
Huckabee said the government would definitely have owed the money, something that was questioned repeatedly in the April 15 Senate full session, where the repeal bill was defeated. (See "VLTs to remain a fact of St. Thomas-St. John life".)
Though the measure was defeated, opponents of the VLTs will, if nothing else, go down swinging. The United Virgin Islands Action Coalition asked the U.S. Attorney's Office on Thursday to investigate the contract and recent agreement between the V.I. Government and Southland Gaming.
Governor Charles W. Turnbull remains vehemently opposed to the machines. He was quoted in the Thursday Avis newspaper as issuing a statement blasting the Legislature for its action. "It is rare," the statement reads, "if not unheard of, in the history of the Virgin Islands for an elected body to so blatantly ignore the known wishes of virtually all sectors of the electorate and residents of the territory."
It continues, "Sooner or later, as the negative social, economic and other consequences of this unfortunate legislation become evident the law legalizing VLT gambling will be repealed."
Senators were sharply critical of the executive branch for placing the decision firmly in their lap, instead of allowing the court to decide. (See "Attorney General: Fate of VLTs up to Senate now".)
Huckabee calls the fears that VLTs will bring social ills "nonsense." After the repeal lost, he said, "Kids aren't allowed to play. Most all the locations will have alcohol licenses and if they allow kids to play, they could lose their license."
Huckabee said that the machines will employ "several hundred" employees. They would be employed indirectly because of extra staff needed to manage the machines.
"We will hire well over 100, ourselves, to get the facility up and running in Havensight," Huckabee said of the facility Southland will use. "We will have vocational training there and try to hire a majority of local people." He added, "We've said this on the radio."
Huckabee is adamant in the face of criticism. "Ask anybody in the gaming industry that tells the truth. Video lottery is the most regulated form of gaming. It's all hooked to a central system. You monitor all the activity on them," he said. "We'll have our own employees doing the same thing." What the critics are saying is "a farce," Huckabee said. "We have to spend about $18 million to put this system in."
As for the estimated $15 million yearly revenue to the government, Huckabee said, "When the numbers get in there, you're looking at about 45 percent to the government."
The next step, he said, is to "Talk to the AG, and bring it (the contract) up to date." Huckabee said, "We have to make the necessary adjustments. It's really not substantial. We have to change the actual language in the agreement to satisfy things that need implementation. In the implementation schedule we have to remove St. Croix, which was originally in it."
Huckabee said most states and Canada use the lottery proceeds for education. "Education is the one that gets shorted in every state, so the lottery is where they have been able to fill those gaps."
Senator Carlton Dowe has sponsored a bill directing that 35 percent of revenues received by the V.I. Lottery from private contractors licensed to operate lottery games in the territory go into the public school Impress Funds. The bill has not yet reached the Senate floor.
Both the states of Georgia, in 2001, and South Carolina, in 2000, have outlawed VLTs. And some of the concerns of South Carolina voters were the same expressed by local opponents of the machines.
According to University of South Carolina's South Carolina Law Review survey by Harriet P. Luttrell, "South Carolinians have engaged in a heated debate … some have considered video poker 'the most important social and policy issue facing the state's citizens and elected officials. Some of the most widely publicized debates have centered on nonlegal issues, such as the morality of video poker and the economic impact the video poker industry has had on South Carolina citizens. Video poker advocates have argues that video poker provides jobs and money. Opponents have argued that it contributes to moral decay, the break-up of families, higher crime rates, and losses in worker productivity."
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