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Video poker bill should provide aid for addicts

March 20, 2001

Video poker bill should provide aid for addicts



Following a debate that began Monday afternoon and lasted late into the evening, West Virginia's House Judiciary Committee appproved Gov. Bob Wise's proposal to regulate the so-called "gray" video-poker machines and turn them into a source of scholarship money on an 18-7 vote. It's not the bill's final hurdle, but a committee that could have buried the bill has given it new life instead.

The video-poker devices are characterized as "gray" machines because except for those at legally approved locations like the Charles Town Races, the machines are supposed to be used for amusement only. However, many who operate the machines pay winners under the table, an arrangement that gives the state no cut of the action.

Wise's bill would have the lottery commission regulate the machines, tax winings and supervise enforcement. Machine licenses would auctioned off, only five could be located in any one establishment and no one under 21 could play or be in the same area with the devices.

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The governor had proposed splitting the state's share of the revenue between education and infrastructure improvements, but the Judiciary Committee amended it to give smaller shares to the cash-strapped Public Employees Insurance Agency, counties and local municipalities.

There were other amendments as well, including one that would have required each manchine to carry a sticker saying "I am a mechanical thief. Repeated use can be harmful to your financial well-being." These were defeated by an unlikely coalition of lawmakers, some of whom are primarily concerned with regulating the machines and others who don't see another any other new source of revenue.

At this point, the bill is still being written. We would hope as lawmakers slice off a penny here and there for this or that agency, they reserve some cash for the treatment of gambling addicts. Their ranks are bound to grow as the state lends some legitimacy to an activity that's been carried on in the shadows up until now.

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