Coin-operated machine supporters pressed state lawmakers Thursday to see the virtues of a new option to award gift cards as winnings instead of just lottery tickets, gasoline and in-store merchandise in Georgia convenience stores.
A state Senate study committee fielded input from store representatives and machine industry backers in the second of three meetings aimed at scrutinizing rules around operating coin-operated amusement machines, which are overseen by the Georgia Lottery Corporation.
Store owners who contract with vendors to host the gaming machines are not allowed by law to reimburse winning players with cash, though industry representatives have acknowledged some stores and vendors flout that rule.
Gift cards pose a good option for players to collect on their winnings that would also drive up sales-tax revenues via purchases in places like gas stations or Walmart where the cards could be transacted, said Les Schneider, an attorney and lobbyist for the Georgia Amusement and Music Operators Association.
“The lottery gift card is something that is going to clear up a great number of problems,” Schneider said.
The lottery corporation has recently begun a pilot program to test out the gift card option in convenience stores, of which attorney David Jaffer said there are more than 6,600 in Georgia.
In all, convenience stores drum up more than $35 billion in sales annually and have faced stricter regulation of coin-operated machines since the lottery assumed oversight from the state Department of Revenue in 2013, said Jaffer, who represents convenience stores.
And though speakers at Thursday’s meeting disagreed on how best to tweak the rules for machines, there was consensus the gift cards potentially could spur even more revenues than the $91 million coin-operated machines raised last fiscal year for the HOPE scholarship and pre-kindergarten programs, which the lottery helps fund.
“We believe the (gift card) pilot will prove to be successful, and initiating the gift card will do more to clean up this industry than any of the other ideas we’ve seen or heard presented over the last few years,” said Angela Holland, president of the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores.
Lawmakers on the committee are tasked with drafting recommendations by December.