Advertisement

The trouble with gaming

August 25, 1998

In June, West Virginia's legislature established a Gaming Subcommittee to study what has become a major industry in the state. The study isn't done yet, but some disturbing facts have turned up, facts which should give pause to those who see gambling as a source of worry-free money.

How big is gambling in West Virginia? In July, committee members learned that legalized video slots provide a gross income of $131 million per year. They also heard an estimate that the state has 15,000 to 30,000 "gray" video poker machines.

They're described in that way in part because officials aren't sure how many there are, but also because they aren't regulated in any way. Payoffs are illegal, but it's apparently common for the management of taverns and clubs where they're located to provide cash prizes to players.

This isn't just nickel-and-dime stuff, either. In a Sunday story on gambling in The Charleston Gazette-Mail, an operator in Bluefield, W.Va., speaking on condition of anonymity, said he makes a $100,000-per-year profit on each machine.

Advertisement

If that sounds like a lot, it's probably because video poker is the most addictive form of gambling around, according to Dr. Robert Hunter, a clinical psychologist quoted by the Gazette who operates the nation's largest clinic for gambling addicts. Unlike a live poker game, with its distractions of conversation and contemplation between bets, the experts say video poker enthralls players because they can exclude the outside world.

The phenomenon so concerns South Carolina officials that the governor there is refusing to put $61 million in video-poker revenues in the state budget because he's convinced the games prey on the weak and the needy.

Our recommendation: regulate all video-poker machines and put aside a hefty chunk of the revenues to treat addicts. Then lawmakers can go on to deal with the dangers of Internet gambling, which has all the addictive potential of poker machines, without any revenue possibilities for the state. West Virginia should squelch this by making it illegal to offer Internet gambling to its citizens for anything but amusement purposes.

The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|