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W.Va. governor says new gray machine law will be enforced

April 30, 2001

W.Va. governor says new gray machine law will be enforced



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Gov. Bob Wise offered a stern message Friday for Eastern Panhandle business owners who are operating video poker machines illegally.

Wise said state authorities, with the assistance of West Virginia State Police and the West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration, will start beefing up enforcement of the law that controls how the machines are used.

Not only can business owners face a misdemeanor charge for operating the machines illegally, they could face tax charges if they are not paying proper taxes on the machines, Wise said.

"If one doesn't get you, the other will," Wise said in an interview during a visit to Martinsburg.

Video poker machines, referred to as gray machines, are legal if they are used as entertainment. It is illegal to receive cash payouts from winnings on the machines, but it happens frequently, state officials have said.

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If anyone operates the machines illegally, their machines could be seized and they could be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by two to 12 months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine, said Wise spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin.

Goodwin said state police and the Alcohol Beverage Control Administration have been meeting to discuss how to weed out illegal gambling operations.

Wise declined to talk about any additional officers being assigned to gambling investigations, saying he never comments about law enforcement probes.

"They do have a plan in place," Goodwin said.

The Legislature last weekend passed Wise's proposal to legalize and restrict video poker machines in the state. The law would restrict the number of machines to 9,000 and require business owners who have them to abide by regulations including installing video surveillance cameras and keeping the machines away from children.

Until that law goes into effect Jan. 1, Wise said he will enforce the law that makes it illegal to obtain cash payouts from the machines.

Wise said the video poker bill that passed the Legislature was not the same as the one he introduced, but that's OK. It achieves his main objectives, which were keeping the machines away from children and reducing their number.

There were estimates there could be up to 30,000 of the machines in the state.

Wise made his comments about the machines following a visit to the newly constructed Ecolab plant off W.Va. 9 near Baker Heights.

Ecolab, a St. Paul, Minn.-based company that makes anti-bacterial products, officially opened its 200,000-square-foot plant during a Friday morning ceremony.

Wise touched on several issues relating to the Eastern Panhandle, including school funding and highway projects.

He said the funding generated from the poker machine bill is expected to free up $100 million in bonding money for the School Building Authority for construction of new schools.

Additional money for rapidly growing schools, especially those in Berkeley County, has been an important issue.

The state Division of Highways recently announced it will begin the W.Va. 9 widening project by clearing land between Cattail Run and U.S. 340 in Jefferson County.

The state plans to widen the road from the Virginia line to Martinsburg. Wise said he does not plan to start design work on the segment from Martinsburg to Berkeley Springs anytime soon.

The highways department recently decided to stop design work on the segment from Martinsburg to Berkeley Springs to save money for other highway projects in the state.

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