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State police raid, seizure of gray machines take many by surpri

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

CLARKSBURG -- The local Elks leader said Wednesday's state police raid and seizure of the lodge's video poker machines was unexpected and ironic.

"Just the evening before, we had over 100 high school and junior high students here for a banquet," said Mike Labdik, exalted ruler of the Clarksburg lodge. "The chief of police was here."

Labdik isn't the only one professing surprise at the seizure of 37 gray machines from the Elks and the Village Square Conference Center, a private facility in which the lodge is housed. Three other raids also took place around the state.

"The governor's office won't know about them (possible future raids) in advance and we didn't know about these in advance," said Bill Case, a spokesman for Gov. Bob Wise.

Case said the evidence for the raids had been collected several weeks or months before -- but the timing and location of the raids was entirely up to the state police.

Chris Wakim, president of the Club Association of West Virginia, said he was also surprised.

"We're a little puzzled by the fact a private fraternal organization was targeted," Wakim said of the Elks incident. "We're within two or three weeks of legalizing applications to conduct the same type of activity."

State-controlled video poker will become legal as of Jan. 1. Until then, possession of the gray machines is legal, but payouts for winning games are not. After Jan. 1, the old machines are felony contraband.

Wakim suspects retaliation is a possible motive for the raids.

The Club Association announced late Tuesday it plans to seek an emergency injunction to stop the new law from going into effect. The group represents private clubs and fraternal organizations, including the Clarksburg Elks.

Case said the raids were simply an enforcement of the law and were not related to Wakim's announcement.

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

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