Columbus slashes gaming license permit fees

Published 8:12 pm Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Columbus decided to play it safe and drastically reduce its gaming machine license fees to avoid any future potential lawsuits.

Columbus Town Council met July 18 and approved reducing its gaming machine fees from $3,000 per location and $2,500 per machine to $300 per location and $300 per machine.

The move means less revenue for the town, but council members said it is not worth the risk.
The town made the move following the City of Lumberton losing a lawsuit where its gaming machine fees were challenged. The lawsuit was filed saying the fees were unconstitutional because they were out of line with other fees the city was charging.

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Columbus attorney Bailey Nager said the gaming industry is now relying on that lawsuit in other litigations. Columbus has not been challenged in a suit involving several local governments across the state, but professors at the N.C. Institute of Government are advising governments to change their fees.

Columbus Mayor Eric McIntyre said if the town reduces its gaming fees, the gaming industry may place Columbus further down on its agenda.

“$300 (per location) and $300 (per machine) would really protect the town,” McIntyre said.

Columbus Town Manager Jonathan Kanipe originally suggested the town lower the fees to $1,000 per location and $300 per machine. Columbus already restricts gaming machines by dictating where machines can be located in town.

There are currently four possible locations for gaming machines at the corners of the intersection of Hwy. 108 and I-26. Two of those locations currently have machines. Kanipe said the Texaco has three machines and the Exxon has four machines, but Exxon is not currently operating their machines.

Councilwoman Ernie Kan questioned how the town could justify a $1,000 fee. Council concluded the town would be safe at $300 across the board instead, based on $300 being the highest fee on its current schedule. If, as planned, a carnival had taken place in early July, the town would have charged them $300.

“I know it would be nice to have the money come in, but is it worth the money it would cost if we got sued?” Kan asked.

Council also questioned if the town can restrict the amount of machines per location. The town agreed to look into restricting the amount of machines and plans to discuss the issue during its August meeting.

Gaming machines were outlawed by the state last year but the industry has since created different machines that are currently operating.