VALDOSTA -- On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that the ban on video poker machines can go forward, sparking the fighting spirit in Debbie Rumker, owner of Central Park Cafe in Valdosta.

Rumker said, "This isn't over yet. We're going to the federal Supreme Court and are hoping to get an injunction. Our lawyers are meeting in Atlanta Friday. I've got nothing to lose but to fight it."

Although game operators were given just 10 days to stop using the machines and only until June 30 to remove them from the state, Rumker said she isn't shutting her doors until she has to. "Until then, it's business as usual."

Central Park Cafe has 70 of the video poker machines, which pay winners in merchandise, not in cash, which was legal until this week. Rumker said she owns the largest business of its kind south of Atlanta.

"These machines have been in the state forever, but they've blanketed all of us into the same group with those who are operating illegally," she said.

Rumker said this could happen with any business, and it scares her to think that something could be perfectly legal one day and illegal the next.

The law, which criminalizes the use and possession of video poker machines, was initially adopted by the state legislature and signed into law on Sept. 15, 2001, and was due to take effect on Jan. 1, 2002.

The game operators received a reprieve from a lower court to continue operating until this week, when the high court decided to uphold the ban. In its decision, the court ruled the machines are "unlawful even if played purely for amusement purposes."

Rumker blames Gov. Roy Barnes for his role in passing the ban, citing the fact that this is an election year.

Video poker machines have been legal in Georgia for a number of years, but they were not as prevalent until a ban went into effect in South Carolina last year. Critics blame that ban for the sudden influx of the machines into the state.

A native of Valdosta, Rumker said her only option may be to relocate her business to another state where the machines are still legal. "We're going to try real hard to stay here. I'm not giving up this easy."

To contact Business Editor Kay Harris, please call 244-3400, ext. 280.

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