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Gaming pact balances West Virginia's budget

April 24, 2001

Gaming pact balances West Virginia's budget



After a last-minute wrangle over video-poker that threatened to upset the whole process, West Virginia lawmakers on Monday decided that a budget balanced with gambling revenues was better than no budget at all. Now state lawmakers need to begin looking at development of new revenue sources and incentives for the creation of jobs.

West Virginia's latest budget totals $2.8 billion, including $186 million from the state's regular lottery games, $36 million from the national tobacco settlement and $123 million in expected revenue from video-poker machines.

The devices are known as "gray machines" because although they were intended for amusement only, many operators paid off winners in cash transactions that were not only illegal, but provided no cut for the state. That will change now, because of the bill that legalizes 9,000 such machines for payoffs within the state.

Gov. Bob Wise had hoped the bulk of the cash could go to PROMISE scholarships, created by the legislature last year, but not funded. But the need for revenue for state employee pay raises cut the final total $5.5 million, less that Wise wanted, but more than the $1 million talked about until last in the budge process.

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In the long run, gambling will not produce the good jobs West Virginia needs and may bring a lot of misery, given the fact that the number of gambling addicts grows when there are more opportunities to bet.

In the future, the state needs to channel some of that money into programs like the one that brought German automkaer BMW to South Carolina in the early 1990s. In exchange for paying for all pre-employment training, the state got an industry expected to pump $6 billion into the state in its first 10 years of operation.

Not every new industry will have such an impact, but if lawmakers begin to look at training and education as an investments that will more than repay their costs, then the state can look toward a time when balancing the state's budget doesn't depend on how many people feed coins into gambling devices.

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