Saturday, September 13, 2008

Amusement or Obsession? The Spread of Video Poker in Kenosha (and Racine)

By Lisa Loring and John Nordquist

We decided to do this article after reading in a Racine paper about an alderman who is trying to enforce a Racine ordinance prohibiting Poker games at gas stations and convenience stores. We had long noticed a similar issue in Kenosha, so we decided to write about it to get a handle on what the public thought about it. The following is the article we wrote for the Daily Kenoshan, its certainly relevant for both cities.

By Lisa Loring and John Nordquist

, WI - From bars to gas stations, restaurants and convenience stores, video poker machines seem to have appeared out of nowhere. Officially for amusement only, since state gaming laws prohibit gambling except in licensed Class B establishments, the proliferation of these video poker games and the scores of addicted gamers, are a violation that apparently falls below the radar of law enforcement.

A casual visit to MIAN'S Gas, a convenience store gas station located at 50th Avenue and 60th Street, will find a number of elderly patrons
stting at one of their 4 gaming machines shoving dollar bills into the slot in hopes of winning 3 7's, or a good poker hand. At Miraz Restaurant on 75th and Sheridan, patrons who are not there to eat sit at the video-poker and winners are pulled aside by the management. In one restaurant near Milwaukee, we stood for ten minutes waiting to pay for our dinner while management and staff stood intently as a patron worked a video slot machine.

Video poker machines may be legal in Class B establishments like taverns with proper permits, but State of Wisconsin statutes prohibit gaming in other establishments and businesses. Under a state law, which was changed in 2003, it is not a criminal offense for establishments with Class B liquor licenses to have five video poker machines or fewer. Violation of this law is a misdemeanor. Class B establishments are places where alcohol is both sold and consumed, such as restaurants or taverns.

According to the state website, The Wisconsin Department of Revenue has sole jurisdiction over Class B establishments’ poker machines.
According to statutes, it is a criminal offense to have video poker machines at locations that do not have a Class B liquor license, such as gas stations and convenience stores. State Law describes gaming machines as:

A contrivance which for a consideration affords the player an opportunity to obtain something of value, the award of which is determined by chance, even though accompanied by some skill and whether or not the prize is automatically paid by the machine.

While a gambling place is described as:

Any building or tent, any vehicle (whether self-propelled or not) or any room within any of them, one of whose principal uses is any of the following: making and settling bets; receiving, holding, recording or forwarding bets or offers to bet; conducting lotteries; or playing gambling machines.

A person may be accused of operating a commercial gaming establishment and be charged with a Class I Felony if they:
(a) Participates in the earnings of or for gain operates or permits the operation of a gambling place; or
(b) For gain, receives, records or forwards a bet or offer to bet or, with intent to receive, record or forward a bet or offer to bet, possesses facilities to do so; or
(c) For gain, becomes a custodian of anything of value bet or offered to be be
A person in violation of these state laws may be required to forfeit not more than $500 if 1 gaming machine was in use.. If the violation involves 2 video gambling machines, the forfeiture is $1000, for operating 3 machines the forfeited sum would be not more than $1,000. For 3 machines it is $1500, for 4 it is $2000, and for 5 machines it is $2500. As far as other establishments offering poker games and other gambling devices,such as convenience stores and gas stations, local law enforcement agencies have jurisdiction. It would then be up to the District Attorney to bring about charges and prosecute the cases. Local law doesn't differ. According Kenosha's local ordinance on gambling - 11.04 GAMBLING
A. Forbidden. No person shall keep any gambling resort, or keep or use any article or device for gambling purposes, or permit any person to gamble, bet or play for money or gain, with or by means of any such article or device, in any room or place under his control; nor shall any person gamble, bet or play for money or gain with or by means of any such article or device.
No person shall bet or wager any money or other thing of value upon the result of any trick, contested skill, speed or bets of endurance of man or beast, or upon the result of any political nomination, appointment or election.
B. Seizure. The members of the Police Department are hereby authorized to seize and hold all gambling articles and devices found by them, and dispose of the same in accordance with the directions of the court.
C. This Section is not violated by activities and the devices authorized under the provisions of Chapter 563 of the Wisconsin Statutes - Regulation of Bingo.
We have talked about this many times after noticing poker machines spring up in local gas stations. This interest was heightened when a newspaper from another city discussed how some of their alderpersons were concerned about the increase in gambling, and were pushing for a crack down. We're not sure that this is a high priority, or if this ordinance is enforced often in Kenosha, but, an ordinance is in place for a reason. We have to wonder why new ordinances such as the new smoking ban would even be proposed if compliance with existing laws are being ignored.


kkdither said...

I'm not a gambler. You won't catch me plugging my hard earned money in any machine.

It seems like no one is too concerned about gambling institutions when it fills the pockets of the right crowd. Legal here, not legal there. Makes no sense.

The argument Wisconsin put up against open gaming years ago was concern over corruption, crime, addiction and the cost to society.

I personally don't believe it has anything to do with the victims or society. Just like everything else, it is all political and money based.

SER said...

When Mega Bucks gets high I’ll buy a ticket or two. If that makes me a be it. Video machines, I have never played one. I personally know people who play them daily and it has no affect on me, I don’t care what people do with their money, they worked for it, let them do what they like.

For a while it seemed you heard comments from church groups about gambling and wanting it prohibited. I don’t see or hear it as much anymore. I guess bingo on Friday night isn’t gambling.

As KK mentioned, Cost to society, I don’t know how that can be measured, but I’m sure there is some abuse out there. I believe what ever group or organization can make it look the worse, that’s the one you’ll hear about. And it is all about the money. Why would a business owner want to put something into their establishments that is going to cost them money and take away from profit?

Complaints I have hear is, people don’t like to see them in a convenient store or gas station; why? There not hurting anyone. Would these people feel better if they put little curtains around them like voting machine? I feel it’s more of a jealousy thing then worrying about the law. These people who complain, I’m sure most of them don’t have the time and the money to waste away on these entertainment machines.

OrbsCorbs said...

Lisa Loring and John Nordquist publish on these nuanced subjects. They always makes me think, and then I see both sides, and then I can't decide.

I first saw these machines (besides in a bar) in Milwaukee, in a restaurant that a friend and I frequent when I visit him. It's one of those family restaurants run by a Greek family where you can get anything. About a year ago, maybe earlier, we went there one day and I noticed some machines up against a back wall where I think coat racks used to be. When I pointed it out to my buddy, he shrugged and said they'd been there for awhile. Now every time we go there, all the machines are occupied. It's on the smoking side (my buddy smokes). Just seems weird to me. I guess it's the "family" idea. Should kids see this? Maybe I'm just a prude. Darn kids shouldn't be in the smoking section anyway!

Machines were put in at the convenience store down the street in the last month or two. I dunno. I don't pay much attention to them. I don't think they've ever all been occupied when I've been there.

I'd say I'm not a gambler but I do buy a lottery ticket about 5 times a week. I've never been to a casino. I don't like to play cards.

This subject is part of that whole, gray, vice area. Booze, drugs, tobacco, gambling, sex. We vary from state to state, even county to county, on those things. I believe that gambling can be addictive in the sense that a person can reach the point that they need help to stop. But what "encourages" that? You can't shut down bars just because some people are alcoholics.

As for the legality and/or why isn't an ordinance being enforced: obviously a hot potato that no one wants to touch. When I read the article in the Journal Times about the local angle, I noticed that a number of the reader comments were along the line that LEOs have more important crime to contend with.

I guess if I had my preferences, the machines would stay in the bars. Condom machines, too. Maybe we should make bars our one stop vice shopping headquarters.

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