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Opinion: Local control seems logical in gambling case

It looks like the challengers might have the winning argument in their fight with the city of Sioux Falls over whether a home-rule community should be able to regulate the placement of video lottery businesses. It looks that way to me. I don't necessarily like it.

The fight is over the city's ability to use zoning powers to restrict the location of video lottery businesses. The city, according to a piece in the Argus Leader by reporter Josh Verges, has an ordinance that limits placement of casinos within 2,000 feet of schools, parks and other video lottery businesses. The point, one would think, is to keep the electronic gambling action away from areas where kids congregate and to guard against the further development of long strips of casinos on certain city streets.

The argument is that the ordinance is unconstitutional, that only the state can regulate video lottery. From what I've read over the years -- and I'm no lawyer but I spent the past weekend at a Woster reunion near Chamberlain, which involves a lot of people offering a lot of opinions about a lot of topics -- the state has a good case. The attorney general not so long ago issued an opinion that came down on the state's side of regulation. That opinion basically said that cities have some power to regulate gambling but not much if the state controls the form of gambling.

This is one of those cases in which I'd argue that if the law or constitution doesn't give a city the power to restrict location of gambling businesses, it should. That might be a losing legal argument, but what would be so terrible about local control? Sure, I understand that video lottery is one of the state's cash cows, and that it's supposed to be operated to maximize revenue.

If I'm on a city council in Pierre, though, and I want to say that a video lottery casino can't be placed next door to Washington Elementary School, or Griffin Park, or anyplace else I find objectionable, it seems to me I should have that power. That's especially true if the citizens of my community agree.

Since Sioux Falls has a home-rule charter, it has a little different level of power than most other South Dakota cities. Generally, cities can do only things the Legislature permits. Home-rule cities have more leeway than that, but the court fight being waged says that doesn't extend to controlling video lottery.

I have nothing against video lottery itself. I don't know that the state should be in the business, but we've fought that one several times, and a majority of us think it should.

I've known people whose lives were destroyed because of an addiction to gambling. I've also known people whose lives were destroyed by booze and by other drugs. Outlawing booze didn't work. Outlawing video lottery probably wouldn't work, either. But having some controls -- and letting local folks have a voice in those controls -- doesn't seem an outlandish notion.

I've never played video lottery. I've watched, and I don't see the attraction. What's the point of losing a $20 bill to a noisy, flashing machine? Other people probably will never know the attraction that I once found in a coffee cup full of vodka at 8 in the morning.

It's an intriguing legal case, and an important one.

Terry Woster's column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays in The Daily Republic.