Under the Dome

Video poker industry spokesman let go

February 18, 2011 

Raleigh PR consultant Brad Crone announced this week that he would no longer be serving as spokesman for the Entertainment Group of North Carolina, an association whose members include the owners of video poker machines.

Crone's firm, Campaign Connections, will continue to represent the Internet Based Sweepstake Organization, a group made up of owners of video sweepstakes machines and parlors.

Some gaming operators are members of both groups.

But as Gov. Bev Perdue and legislators toy with the idea of legalizing and taxing some form of computerized gaming, there is an increasing divide between the interests of the state's video poker lobby and those of sweepstakes operators.

The issue has to do with the competing technologies behind the two types of games. Video poker machines, which have been outlawed by the state, are generally older stand-alone consoles similar to arcade games. The sweepstakes games are generally PC terminals connected via the Web to a server at another location.

Because the sweepstakes games are centrally controlled, it would be possible for the state to monitor their operation in real time and tax a portion of the proceeds. The video poker machines generally don't have that capability.

As the debate at the legislature proceeds, Crone said those differences could lead to competing priorities for the owners of the varying types of machines.

Crone said the Entertainment Group didn't give him a reason for his dismissal, but pointed out the group had also released lobbyist Gardner Payne a few months ago. The video poker group currently has no registered lobbyist.

"My expectation is that they will be going with a Republican firm," said Crone, who has ties to Democrats.

Payne clarified that the decision for him to no longer represent the Entertainment Group was mutual because of concern about the potential for conflict with another of his clients, the sweepstakes software provider VS2.

"We all agreed that while we are all currently working together, at some point in time there existed the possibility of a potential conflict of interest," Payne wrote in an e-mail message. "As such, I elected to continue my representation of VS2. However, we are all working together this session and all agree that private enterprise is the best option for North Carolina."

Perdue holds her nose, takes her time on bill

We won't hear until next week what Gov. Bev Perdue will do with a budget-cutting bill she doesn't like, her office says.

A bill that would give Perdue extra powers to cut at least $400 million from agency budgets and take about $140 million from other state accounts to pay next year's expenses has made it to the governor's office.

Perdue has said she doesn't like the parts that take unspent money from economic development accounts, including JDIG and One North Carolina. But she won't take any action on the bill until next week at the earliest, her spokeswoman Christine Mackey said.

Perdue presented her proposed budget Thursday and will be traveling the state today to talk about it.

Legislative tax expert joins law firm

Sabra Faires, a tax expert who worked for former legislative leaders, has joined the Raleigh law firm Bailey & Dixon.

Her 30 years in state government included an administrative post in the N.C. Department of Revenue, tax counsel to former Senate leader Marc Basnight, and chief of staff to former House Co-speaker Richard Morgan.

michael.biesecker@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4698

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