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Poker machines concern Wise

February 16, 2001

Poker machines concern Wise



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

Bob WiseHEDGESVILLE, W.Va. - Gov. Bob Wise now says video poker machines in the state cannot be counted and he will instead concentrate on the types of businesses that have them.

Last week, Wise asked the West Virginia State Police to count the video poker machines in the state as part of his plan to restrict and regulate the games.

State Police officials had said they didn't see any problem with the request and estimated they would have a count by last Friday.

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But troopers were not able to come up with a number by that time.

During an appearance Thursday at James Rumsey Technical Institute, Wise said state police officials are unable do a full count of the machines.

Wise said part of the problem is that uniformed officers cannot go into private clubs unless they are called to the establishments for a disturbance.

A local state police sergeant, however, said state police were able to count machines in private clubs by sending undercover officers into the establishments.

Wise said he is interested in finding out where the poker machines are located so officials will know where they are in case they have to enforce a state law that forbids cash payouts on the machines.

A count conducted in 1999 estimated there were about 9,000 machines in the West Virginia. Wise said the number could be between 20,000 and 30,000. Wise said he is basing the estimate in part on what he's heard from people involved in the gambling industry.

In his State of the State address Wednesday night, Wise proposed taxing the poker machines, a move he estimated would generate $22 million. Wise wants to use $12.5 million of the money to fund the PROMISE Scholarship program, which would offer tuition to high-achieving students.

Wise said he is concerned about the number of video poker machines that have flooded the state, and wants to reduce the number to 9,000.

In addition to clubs and bars, the machines are also in convenience stores and gas stations, and Wise said he is concerned about children being exposed to the machines.

In one location, the number of machines went from 8 to 100, said Wise, adding that the businsses are basically turning into "unlicensed casinos."

"The gambling machines in the Eastern Panhandle have been exploding," Wise told educators as he tried to drum up support for his PROMISE Scholarship program.

Under a bill Wise plans to introduce in the Legislature, the machines would be prohibited in any part of a business open to young people.

For the 9,000 machines that will be allowed in the state, there will be an "auction process," through which businesses owners will be able to bid on the chance to have the machines, Wise said.

Each establishment will be limited to five machines, Wise said.

Wise would not commit to keeping the limit at 9,000 machines.

"I never say never. That's up to the electorate and how they feel about it," he said.

The poker machines are legal as entertainment. It is illegal to win cash payouts from the machines.

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