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Statehouse beat: 400 is the lucky number

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In anticipation of Tuesday's special meeting of the Lottery Commission to clarify the definition of "event" in the state's historic resort gambling law, I'd like to humbly offer the following proposal:

"An event is any meeting, gala, or gathering on the grounds of The Greenbrier resort in which participants have pre-registered and paid an appropriate participation fee, when said participants have also booked overnight accommodations of 400 or more rooms at the resort."

The 400-room occupancy rate has been a key point of confusion over when non-overnight guests may legally have access to The Greenbrier's casino.

The Legislature's intent was clear when it put the 400-room provision in The Greenbrier gaming law: that people attending bona fide conventions, conferences or events should not be denied access to the casino simply because they were forced to stay at an off-site motel because their event had booked the hotel to capacity.

However, the management of The Greenbrier (with the acquiescence of Lottery officials) has twisted that provision to say that any time the hotel has 400 rooms booked, the casino is basically open to all comers, even to day-trippers whose only "event" was boarding a Greyhound in Roanoke.

(And, as we've been advised, management has not been above giving free rooms to hotel staff when necessary to get to that 400-room occupancy rate.)

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Speaking of, Abbott Trailways of Roanoke, Va., by far the largest purveyor of Greenbrier casino day-trips, has put out its 2013 tour catalog, with 39 Greenbrier day-trips scheduled from April 3 to June 29 alone.

While the trips are listed in the same section of the catalog as day trips to the Hollywood Casino in Charles Town (30 trips set between Feb. 26 and Dec. 29), and three- to five-day gambling trips to Atlantic City, other than the dates, the new guides provide no information about the Greenbrier trips, other than a stealthy, "Call our office for more details."

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The conservative Institute for American Values recently had an interesting take on the casino in an essay by Paul Davies titled, "The Greenbrier Goes Down-Market."

"The Greenbrier, an upscale resort that has hosted presidents and other major figures, has transformed itself into a convenience casino," Davies writes. "Bus companies are bringing scores of day trippers to the casino mainly to gamble. The casino opened two years ago, and was billed as an upscale attraction, but it has morphed into an Atlantic City-like attraction that buses in locals to gamble."

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Speaking of the Lottery, good news for those of us who have been slowly underwriting a Promise scholarship: Two major manufacturers of limited video lottery machines, IGT and Spielo, have asked the Lottery Commission to approve raising payouts on the slot machines found in bars and clubs around the state from the current maximum of 92 percent to 95 percent.

I believe gamblers refer to that as loosening the machines.

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Regarding last week's item on outgoing Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass giving out more than $200,000 in pay raises to 71 administrators and top aides, including 13 pay hikes of $5,000 or more, speculation is that he did so in an effort to spur the troops to campaign on behalf of Republican challenger Kent Leonhardt, with the logic being that Leonhardt would have been more likely to maintain the status quo in terms of the management team.

The new ag commissioner, Sen. Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, is expected to do a major reorganization of the agency.

Speaking of the raises, I received a nasty email from Darius Walker, Agriculture Commission information technology director, objecting to publication of the pay raises and salaries:

"I'm not sure what you thought you were accomplishing with this article other than trying to embarrass people or bring strife between employees. I don't appreciate it all. Now everyone in my small community has my salary thrown in their face."

(Of course, if you don't want your salary to be public record, the solution is to take a job in the private sector, which is evidently what Walker is doing.)

Walker also noted that Leonhardt visited the IT department twice during the campaign, and took a real interest in the operations.

"When he first visited, he asked questions about the department's databases, network infrastructure, and information systems. When the answers to those questions were more technical than his experience, he came a second time and brought a trusted individual with information technology experience to ask questions of me and my staff," Walker stated. "I didn't get so much as a phone call from Walt Helmick."

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Finally, speaking of ... if you happen to run into a state employee this week, show some consideration. It's the first time in a month that they've had a five-day workweek.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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