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Senator aims to ban video poker

January 14, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A proposal to ban video poker machines in the state is expected to be introduced in the Legislature, but a local senator said he believes the idea will get little support.

Sen. Herb Snyder said it would be impossible to ban the machines because they are so popular.

"The industry is going to go wild," said Snyder, D-Jefferson.

Sen. Bill Wooton, chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, has talked to his colleagues this week about introducing a bill that would ban video poker machines often found in private clubs and bars.

Although Wooton could not be reached for comment, Snyder, who is vice-chairman of the judiciary, said Wooton talked with him about the proposal.

An interim committee was supposed to meet over the summer and come up with a recommendation on what to do with video poker machines in the state, Snyder said.

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The machines are legal as entertainment, but cash payouts from the machines are illegal and occur often, officials said.

State lawmakers say the state needs to change the way the games are regulated, whether it is banning the machines or legalizing cash payouts and taxing the winnings.

But the committee could not make a recommendation, which led Wooton, D-Raleigh, to make his own proposal, said Snyder.

Snyder said he supports controlling the machines rather than banning them.

The state's 6 percent sales tax is supposed to be paid on all money going into the machines, but very little of the tax money is collected, Snyder said.

"That's a hole that needs to be plugged immediately," he said.

Snyder said monitoring devices can be placed in the machines to determine how much tax money should be collected from them. But that still leaves the issue of how to control illegal payouts.

Although officials don't how many video poker machines are in the Eastern Panhandle, it is estimated there are between 15,000 and 30,000 machines in the state. There have been efforts to curb illegal video poker gambling in the Panhandle through lengthy undercover operations, which resulted in raids and confiscation of the machines.

Such actions are rare.

Jefferson County Sheriff William Senseney said officials at a West Virginia Sheriff's Association meeting in Flatwoods last week discussed hooking all the video poker machines in the state to phone lines that would allow the state to monitor all the money going into them. Then the revenue could be taxed, Senseney said.

There has been concern among some people about expanding gambling in the state.

Del. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, generally an opponent of any expansion of gambling, said he would take a serious look at Wooton's proposal. Trump called video poker machines "predatory" because they can be addictive.

Berkeley County Sheriff Ronald Jones said he, too, is opposed to a further spread of gambling.

"I don't think we need another Las Vegas in Berkeley County," he said.

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