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Opponents, supporters of gray machine bill speak out

by Malia Rulon

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

CHARLESTON -- Gov. Bob Wise's bill to legalize gambling on 9,000 video poker machines could come up for a vote before the full House of Delegates and Senate as early as next week, legislative leaders said Wednesday.

House Finance Chairman Harold Michael, D-Hardy, said his committee would start considering the bill today.

Senate Finance Chairman Oshel Craigo, D-Putnam, said his committee will consider it after the House Finance Committee finishes working on it.

In well-attended public hearing Wednesday, Timothy Kelly from the federally funded National Gambling Impact Study Commission said legislators do not understand the impact gambling could have on the economy.

"You do not have enough information before you now to make this decision," he said.

"Convenience gambling," like that on video poker machines in bars and convenience stores in West Virginia, is the "worst form of gambling," he said. "The social costs are especially high because the accessibility is increased, and on top of that, they have the worst economic benefits."

Craigo said after the hearing that the governor's bill would regulate video machine gambling for the first time and limit it to areas accessible only by adults.

"Right now, you can gamble when you buy a gallon of milk at the store. You talk about convenience, that's convenience," Craigo said.

Under Wise's bill, HB2205/SB119, video poker machine payouts would be taxed to raise an estimated $22 million this year and $125 million annually by 2003.

Video poker machines now are legal if used for amusement purposes. The problem, Wise and others have said, is the machines have become illegal gambling devices where players receive winnings.

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