ATLANTA – Legislation aimed at reforming Georgia’s coin-operated amusement machines (COAM) industry is headed to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk after squeaking through the state Senate.

Senators passed House Bill 353 Tuesday night 29-24, the minimum number of votes needed to pass legislation in the 56-member chamber. The House followed suit later by a much larger margin of 148-18.

The bill would award non-cash redemption gift cards to winners that could be redeemed anywhere in Georgia for any legal product. Current law allows COAM winners to redeem their prizes only for merchandise sold in the store where the machine they played is located.

Supporters have argued gift cards would take away the temptation to illegally pay out cash prizes, contributing to a crime problem long associated with the COAM industry.

Senators amended the bill Tuesday night to increase the state’s share of the revenue generated from COAM proceeds from 10% to 13%. The additional 3% would produce an estimated $40 million a year for Georgia’s HOPE Scholarships and pre-kindergarten programs, said Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Buford, who carried the bill in the Senate.

The bill drew significant opposition from senators opposed both to the concept of the COAM games and to the percentage of the revenue the state gets to keep.

Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, said the COAM industry preys upon poor people who are tricked into believing they have a chance to hit it big.

“The machines are programmed to where you can’t win,” he said.

“We are slowly eroding what Georgia is about,” added Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula. “We are sacrificing our very soul.”

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said COAMs will hurt the Georgia Lottery program because the 13% return amended into the COAM bill gives the state a far lower share of the take than the lottery, which typically contributes about 25% of the proceeds to HOPE and pre-k.

But Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, said the COAM machines provide a form of entertainment to people without the means to travel to Las Vegas.

“What we’re trying to do is legislate morality,” he said.

Senators defeated an amendment proposed by Cowsert to significantly increase the state’s share of the revenue from COAM machines. Dixon argued such a move would kill the industry.