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Growth in video gambling must be curbed

We are gladdened almost any time when we hear that an industry in the Mountain State has reached higher levels of profitability. Almost any time. But our hearts sink when we learn that it is not a manufacturing company that has employed a number of people and attracted business, or a new retail firm that is earning top dollar from its sales.

Instead, it is the increase in the number of video lottery and other gambling machines that West Virginia has been realizing of late. Video lottery revenue is up 75 percent this year. Projections have called for revenue from the machines at the state's four horse and dog tracks -- among other flourishing gambling havens in the area and state -- to account for two-thirds of lottery income.

Wouldn't it be grand if a greater number of companies that provide useful products and services -- those that can turn a profit without "suckering" their customers into diminishing their income to virtually nothing -- could boast these numbers?

The explosive growth in video gambling is said to be linked to the introduction of Las Vegas-style coin-drop machines. A recent Associated Press story disclosed that in the budget year that ended June 30, gross revenue of $283.2 million from video lottery machines exceeded the combined sales of $164.7 million in instant and on-line game revenue.

The story said that 10 years ago, video lottery revenue barely appeared in lottery sales numbers, but in its first year at Mountaineer Park near Chester in Hancock County, video lottery revenue totaled $58,792. Then, in the 1995 budget year after our state legislators expanded video lottery to all four racing tracks, the revenue soared to $28.1 million.

Thank goodness the people of Greenbrier County voted down casino gambling at The Greenbrier resort at White Sulphur Springs in the Nov. 7 General Election. We can only wish that many more West Virginians had that kind of foresight.

Robert F. Stealey

Telegram Editorial Board chairman

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