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A gamble for citizens

March 04, 1999

Like a series of small rain showers that suddenly become a raging flood, several lawmakers' attempts to modify and control gambling in West Virginia seem to be turning into a major expansion of it instead. Before there's a slot machine on every corner, citizens need to think about the possible consequences of three recent bills.

Are we exaggerating their possible effect? Judge for yourself.

On Wednesday, the state Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would replace all video poker machines in the state with video lottery machines. The bill was originally written just to outlaw the so-called "gray" poker machines, but the bill's sponsor and Judiciary Committee chairman Bill Wooton says he "didn't seem to have a lot of support for that."

Realizing that he couldn't win a ban on devices that many suspect bar owners are making illegal payouts on, Wooton decided to replace the illegal with something legal.

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Think of it; if this bill wins final approval, there could be as many as 30,000 new slot-machine-type devices in drinking establishments across the state. And the fear of discovery that keeps operators from allowing players to gamble away their entire paychecks would be removed. The second bill would allow video lottery to provide cash payouts and slot-machine style tumblers to replace the screens in use now, speeding up play.

The third bill would allow casino-style gambling at The Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, so that the hotel wouldn't have to lay off half its staff in the winter. It's going forward despite the opposition of state Sen. Shirley Love, in whose district it's located and who says she's received 53 petitions opposing it. If decreasing unemployment is a justification for casino gambling, then legislators might as well declare the whole state the Nevada of the East Coast.

To borrow an argument from Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, gambling may create some revenue from the state, but it doesn't create wealth for the citizens. Instead of encouraging citizens to believe in hard work to make their fortunes, it prompts them to rely on chance instead. If this is what citizens want, so be it, but we'd hate to see these bills approved while nobody's paying attention.

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