Raleigh PR consultant Brad Crone announced Wednesday that he would no longer be serving as spokesman for the Entertainment Group of North Carolina, an association whose members include the owners of video poker machines.
Crone's firm, Campaign Connections, will continue to represent the Internet Based Sweepstake Organization, a group made up of owners of video sweepstakes machines and parlors.
Some gaming operators are members of both groups.
But as Gov. Bev Perdue and legislators toy with the idea of legalizing and taxing some form of computerized gaming, there is an increasing divide between the interests of the state's video poker lobby and those of sweepstakes operators.
The issue has to do with the competing technologies behind the two types of games. Video poker machines, which have been outlawed by the state, are generally older stand-alone consoles similar to an arcade game. The sweepstakes games are generally PC terminals connected via the web to a server at another location.
Because the sweepstakes games are centrally controlled, it would possible for the state to monitor their operation in real time and tax a portion of the proceeds. The video poker machines generally don't have that capability.
As the debate at the legislature proceeds, Crone said those differences could lead to competing priorities for the owners of the varying types of machines.
Crone said the Entertainment Group didn't give him a reason for his dismissal, but pointed out they had also released lobbyist Gardner Payne a few months ago. The video poker group currently has no registered lobbyist.
"My expectation is that they will be going with a Republican firm," said Crone, who has ties to Democrats.
UPDATE: Payne clarifies that the decision for him to no longer represent the Entertainment Group was mutual due to concern about the potential for conflict with another of his clients, the sweepstakes software provider VS2.
"We all agreed that while we are all currently working together, at some point in time there existed the possibility of a potential conflict of interest," Payne wrote in an e-mail. "As such, I elected to continue my representation of VS2. However, we are all working together this session and all agree that private enterprise is the best option for North Carolina."