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Businesses pay fines after gray machines confiscated

March 09, 2001

Businesses pay fines after gray machines confiscated



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Three Berkeley County, W.Va., businesses paid $250 each in fines after 10 so-called "gray machines" were confiscated late last year along with $4,909 in cash from the machines, a state official said Thursday.

The Alcohol Beverage Control Administration confiscated four machines in a Dec. 6 raid at Woody's Market on U.S. 11, said Ron Moats, director of operations for the ABCA. Two more were confiscated on Dec. 22.

Officials confiscated $808 in the first raid and $3,265 in the second.

The gray machines are video slot machines that are legal if played for amusement. They are illegal if someone is paid for winning. The law against the machines is seldom enforced, giving them the name "gray machines."

Also on Dec. 22, two machines were confiscated from Tobin's Country Market on U.S. 11. Fifteen dollars was taken from those, Moats said. Moats said $461 was taken from two machines at Steve's Grocery on Poor House Road the same night.

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The three owners agreed to pay the $250 fines, and all but Tobin's have retrieved their machines from storage in Charleston, he said.

"These cases are closed as far as we're concerned," Moats said.

He would not say if further investigations were under way in the Eastern Panhandle.

Moats said the plan for an enforcement action against the local stores began with an Aug. 1 story in The Morning Herald that reported that Woody's Market owner Brian Frazee made a payout to a customer in front of a reporter and acknowledged he was doing it.

"That's really what got things started under the former (ABCA) commissioner," Moats said.

Frazee could not be reached for comment Thursday, but said two months ago he was no longer making payouts. The owners of Tobin's Country Store could not be reached for comment Thursday. Steven Hess, owner of Steve's Grocery, said the machines ought to be legalized.

"I think they ought to just let them be," he said. He retains his machines, but only for customers' amusement, he said.

The West Virginia Legislature is considering a number of actions to regulate or tax the machines. Gov. Bob Wise ordered a count of the gray machines in the state, but specific numbers have not been released. The state legislation would permit about 9,000 gray machines statewide.

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