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Video-Poker bill's destiny may be decided this week

April 16, 2001

Video-Poker bill's destiny may be decided this week



With both houses of the West Virginia Legislature just "5 percent" away from agreement on a bill to regulate video-poker machines, Gov. Bob Wise called a special session this past Saturday to give lawmakers another week to try. We wish them luck, because the funding it would provide will plug a lot of holes in the state's budget.

In his State of the State address, Wise estimated that limiting the number of video-poker machines to 9,000 and taxing those would yield $22 million annual, with $12.5 million that total going to the PROMISE scholarship program.

The PROMISE total has since been trimmed to $1 million, with the remaining cash slated to go for state employee pay raises, among other things.

The legislature might have been able to wrap things up last week, except for two important points. House and Senate conferees couldn't agree on who should actually own the machines - vending services or the establishments where they're placed - and how machines would be distributed across the state.

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A compromise in the works would give retailers the option to buy their own machines or lease them from a vending-machine service.

On the question of placement, its seems to us that they should be allocated should be done in the same way as liquor licenses - by population. For example, lawmakers could decide that one machine would be licensed for every 2,000 residents in a county.

We dislike the proposal for bidding out licenses, because unless the bill limits the number of licenses one person can hold, bidding would allow someone with deep pockets to corner the market on them.

As we have said previously, the expansion of gambling is not an ideal solution to the state's budget woes. But the alternative is to leave state employees without raises and the scholarship program unfunded for yet another year. Our hope is that this is a temporary fix that will be phased out, as South Carolina did, when other sources of revenues are developed to meet the state's needs.

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