North Carolina can't legally ban video poker machines while also allowing the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to operate the games on their lands within the state, a state court judge ruled late Thursday.
The ruling issued by Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning overturns the 2006 law that ended the state's 13-year experiment with video poker machines, a popular attractions when legal in bars and convenience stores.
The ruling won't lead to the immediate return of the machines, since Manning also issued a stay of his order to give the state time to file an expected appeal.
Manning's decision came in a lawsuit filed by former video poker machine vendor McCracken and Amick Inc. The company's attorneys argued the federal law that governs the state's gambling agreement with the Cherokee does not permit the state to bar games it allows on tribal lands.
"The state acted unlawfully in authorizing the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians to possess and operate video gaming machines on tribal lands within North Carolina because that activity is not allowed elsewhere in the state," Manning wrote in his order.
Sen. Charlie Albertson, D-Duplin, the primary booster of the legislative ban, said late Thursday it was approved after lawmakers heard repeated complaints about people losing money playing machines that could legally offer only $10 in merchandise as a prize.
"There was no regulation of these machines," Albertson said. "You couldn't find anything good about them, to tell you the truth."
The state's sheriffs had long complained that it was too hard to weed out those that illegally offered large cash pay outs.
After legalizing the machines in 1993 and approving new regulations on them in 2000, lawmakers imposed a one-year phase out of the games that was completed in June 2007.
Asked about Manning's decision, a spokeswoman for North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper declined to comment Thursday evening.