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W.Va. gray machines going into 'storage'

This is the first in an occasional series examining the effects of the Jan. 1 legalization of video lottery, which includes video poker and similar games.

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

CLARKSBURG -- Gambling interests say West Virginia's controversial gray machines are gone or going -- but maybe not for good.

"What's happening is they're putting them in storage, waiting to see if it's overturned," said Chris Wakim, a Wheeling bar owner who is president of the Club Association of West Virginia.

He was referring to a law that makes the old video poker machines felony contraband as of Jan. 1. That is the same day state-run video lottery machines become legal.

The association, which Wakim said includes scores of businesses and fraternal/veterans clubs in the Clarksburg area, continues to challenge the constitutionality of the new video lottery law in federal court.

"I know some people who have set up warehouses in Ohio," Wakim said of keeping the machines handy.

While he wouldn't say where the nine gray machines he owns will be headed at year's end, he said they will be operating until the last possible second. He openly pays out for winning games, a practice which remains illegal until Jan. 1.

An anonymous source from the machine vending industry, said Wakim is not alone in holding out until the end.

"They need the revenue," the man said of bars and clubs.

After Jan. 1, he believes money will dictate what happens to the old machines.

He said most of the gray machines in West Virginia are owned by large operators, who have 500 to 600 machines each. He believes they will either store the devices or sell them in another state where they remain legal.

"They were these people's personal property and they do have an investment in this."

The man said a newer gray machine, such as the Pot of Gold or Mountaineer Magic versions, costs more than $6,000.

Despite the money involved, neither Wakim nor the anonymous source believe many gray machines will be illegally operating in 2002, however.

"There will be too many watch dogs," the source said.

He especially believes club owners who have invested thousands of dollars in the legal machines will particularly be on the look out for illegal back-room operations.

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

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