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Panel OKs hike in gaming machines

A video lottery machine is pictured here Wednesday at a Mitchell business. A South Dakota Senate panel OK'd an increase in video lottery machines Thursday from 10 to 14 machines per establishment. (Chris Huber/Republic)

PIERRE -- Video lottery businesses could have up to 14 of the gambling terminals in each establishment under a change that cleared its first test Wednesday in the Legislature.

The current limit is 10. The Senate committee on state affairs endorsed allowing up to 14 terminals.

The additional four would have to offer the new software that features line-up games similar to Deadwood-style slot machines.

The committee voted 7-2 in favor of the legislation, Senate Bill 175. The full Senate could debate the plan as early as Friday afternoon.

Sen. Bob Gray, R-Pierre, is the prime sponsor.

He said the proposed increase is a response to the South Dakota Lottery Commission's decision last year to allow line-up games in addition to the traditional poker, blackjack and keno.

"It would allow four machines for the new games," Gray said.

Larry Mann, lobbyist for the South Dakota Association of Video Lottery Establishments, said the change was requested because of the new technology. He said it's a difficult choice for a business to remove an existing machine when it's unknown how players will react to a new one.

About 450 of the approximately 1,400 licensed establishments statewide are at the 10-machine limit, according to Mann.

"I was trying to look for ways to help folks deploy the new equipment and get back to the levels of a year ago," he said.

The expansion was opposed by several people who said video lottery hurts families.

Another opponent was Paul Gates of Pierre, who said he has owned casinos for more than 12 years and has been a video lottery operator for 15 years.

Gates questioned how allowing four more machines will generate more revenue.

"I just don't think this makes any sense to expand the number of machines for our locations," Gates said.

Norm Lingle, South Dakota Lottery director, watched from the audience but didn't take a public position during the hearing.

The same Senate committee rejected legislation earlier this week that would have increased the maximum bet limit to $5 per play from the current $2.