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SD lawmakers approve penny bets for video lottery

Chet Brokaw, Associated Press

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) -- A measure allowing players to bet as little as a penny on video lottery games won final approval from the South Dakota Legislature on Thursday after lawmakers disagreed on whether the move will hurt gamblers by enticing them to lose more money.

The House voted 39-28 to pass the bill, which was approved earlier by the Senate. The measure, backed by the state Lottery Commission, will become law if Gov. Dennis Daugaard signs it.

The law currently allows a minimum bet of 5 cents a game. Supporters said 1-cent bets are needed for new machines that offer lineup games similar to slot machines. The video machines traditionally offered poker, blackjack and keno games, but the lineup games were started in 2011 in an effort to boost revenue after a decline caused by a smoking ban imposed in 2010.

"What we are trying to do is keep the games fresh and entertaining," said Rep. Dick Werner, R-Huron, a former member of the Lottery Commission.

Werner said the machines take only paper currency, but the bill would allow players to bet as little as a penny on a game. He said the measure does not expand gambling or increase the $2 bet limit in video lottery.

But opponents said penny bets could encourage players to gamble more and eventually lose more.

While supporters said video lottery has contributed more than $2 billion to the state treasury in the past quarter century, opponents said they don't believe state government should depend on gambling revenue. The state gets half the money lost by video lottery players. South Dakota's take this year is expected to be more than $90 million.

"My conscience forbids me from winning or gaining something monetarily from those who lose in something that's designed for them to lose," said Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City.

Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, said he ran for the Legislature partly to help wean state government from federal aid and gambling money, which he called unhealthy sources of revenue.

"I look forward to the day we're not dependent on this," Hickey said.

Rep. Roger Solum, R-Watertown, said the move will merely give people the option of making a penny bet instead of just a nickel. Each casino would still be limited to 10 machines, he said.

But Manny Steele, R-Sioux Falls, said the measure seeks to expand gambling because it is intended to increase state revenue.

"We don't even take into account the people who have been harmed by this industry," Steele said.


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