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Underwood may not support slot machine bill

March 18, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Although Charles Town Races is set to install up to 850 slot machines at its thoroughbred track, there is no guarantee that Gov. Cecil Underwood will sign into law a bill that allows the machines, a spokesman for the governor said Wednesday.

Underwood has been concerned about expansion of gambling in the state, and although supporters of the "coin-drop" bill say it will not mean more machines, the governor wants to make his own determination, said Underwood spokesman Rod Blackstone.

"We need to analyze the legislation and see if that's accurate," Blackstone said.

"He's expressed a lot of concerns about widespread gambling in West Virginia."

Meanwhile, a conservative women's organization based in Mason County has written a letter urging Underwood to veto the coin-drop bill and a bill to allow casino gambling at The Greenbrier resort in southern West Virginia.

Alice Click, coordinator of Concerned Women for America, called coin-drop the "crack cocaine" of gambling because it is so addictive. Click said she fears slot machines will spread to the rest of the state if West Virginia's four horse and dog tracks are allowed to have them.

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"This is not economic development. This is a social issue," Click said.

On Saturday, the last day of the 60-day legislative session, the Legislature passed the coin-drop bill, which allows Charles Town to install gambling machines that pay out in coins. Currently, the track has video lottery machines, which dispense a slip showing the player's winnings.

The paper then has to be taken to a validation window to be cashed.

Charles Town Races went to lawmakers for help in winning approval for the coin-drop legislation after patrons said they preferred the feel of slot machines to video lottery.

Bill Bork Jr., director of marketing at Charles Town, declined to comment in detail about the developments surrounding the coin-drop bill.

Bork said track officials intend to "lay low and see what happens" at the governor's office before making any more comments about the issue.

Underwood's office has not seen House Bill 3029 yet, Blackstone said.

The Legislature is currently in an extended session to consider the budget. If the governor doesn't sign a bill within five days after receiving it during a session, the lack of action is considered a "pocket veto," although lawmakers can override it.

After a session ends, the governor has 15 days to sign a bill. If he doesn't, it automatically becomes law.

Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said he believes that will be Underwood's strategy.

"I'm not worried about it," Doyle said.

Although Underwood is noncommittal on House Bill 3029, it was widely supported by the Eastern Panhandle delegation. Out of the eight local lawmakers, Del. John Overington, R-Berkeley, was the only lawmaker to vote against it, according to House and Senate clerk officials.

Click said she worked with a man who told her he was addicted to a video poker machine he played in a convenience store in the Mason County area. The man poured so much money into the machine that he often had only enough money for a bucket of chicken to take home to his wife for dinner, Click said.

"He admitted his addiction," Click said. "He didn't know where to go for help."

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