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Clubs to test video poker law

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

CLARKSBURG -- State club owners plan to seek an emergency injunction against a new video poker law, an official said Wednesday.

"We're trying to stop the implementation of the bill. It will put us out of business," said Chris Wakim, president of the Club Association of West Virginia.

Bill Case, a gubernatorial spokesman, said the newly signed law is ready for any such test.

Thinking statewide,

acting locally

Association members are scheduled to meet privately Monday at the Clarksburg Moose Lodge to discuss the effort. Wakim said the group of 3,000 fraternal and for-profit members represents about 850 people in and around the city.

"I'm going to be asking people to pony up for the suit."

Darry Harris, a member of the Clarksburg Elks Lodge and a district officer, said he expects a great deal of support for the lawsuit locally.

"I don't think Gov. Wise ... took into account what the fraternal organizations do for the community," Harris said. "I think you'll see that all the fraternal organizations will be there (at the meeting)."

Harris said the Clarksburg Elks have a dozen video poker machines in addition to a bingo operation -- proceeds from which are funneled back into the community for scholarships and other projects.

The Elks club is located within the Village Square Conference Center. Prior to the bill's passage, Wise said that center has one of the highest concentrations of machines in the state, "presumably all operating illegally."

Ownership of the machines is legal until Jan. 1. Payouts on winning games remain illegal until that date, with violation being a potential misdemeanor.

Legal issues

Wakim, who owns two Wheeling clubs, said the association has secured an out-of-state law firm and plans to file the injunction by early June. The group plans to challenge the constitutionality of the new law on several points, he said.

He believes the distribution of new machines unfairly favors large organizations such as hotel chains, although he would not say if that point will be among those questioned.

The new law kicks in Jan. 1. Under the legalized system, establishments with Class A liquor licenses may automatically purchase a set number of $1,000 machine permits from the state. Bars and clubs may have up to two; fraternal and veteran organizations can get seven. What remains of the 9,000 licenses will go to the highest bidders.

Case said legislative attorneys have thoroughly reviewed the law and are confident it can withstand a lawsuit.

He had no further comment until the lawsuit is actually filed.

"It's hard to respond to something you haven't seen," Case said.

Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at nedinger@exponent-telegram.com.

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