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DROPPING COIN

Just before 11 p.m. March 13, 1999, the Rev. Nathan Wilson walks out of

 

the Senate chamber.

It's the last night of the session, and he is going

 

home to his wife and baby after 14 hours of

lobbying at the West

 

Virginia Legislature.

 

 

Minutes before, the Senate had rejected a gambling bill that

 

Wilson fought against all session.

The bill would have allowed West

 

Virginia's racetracks to introduce new "coin slot" machines.

These are

 

what most people think of when you say slot machine - pull a lever or push

 

a button,

and the wheels spin around. When they stop, if you match up

 

the diamonds, cherries or 7s in the

right order, coins cascade from the

 

bottom.

 

 

The racetracks knew that if they got coin slots, their profits would

 

  • kyrocket, but first they

    needed a change in the law. Wilson's bosses

  •  

    at the West Virginia Council of Churches feared

    those profits would

     

    come mostly from people who couldn't afford it. Wilson thought they had

     

    won

    - two times that night, the Senate rejected the coin slot bill.

     

     

    Elated and relieved, Wilson walks down the marble stairs. But a

     

    gambling lobbyist stops him in

    the hallway. For reasons still

     

    unclear to Wilson, the lobbyist tells him that the coin slot

    bill is

     

    far from dead. It could be attached as an amendment to other bills in the

     

    last hour of

    the session.

     

     

    Wilson knows lobbyists and lawmakers use the chaos of the last night of

     

    the session to slip

    through special interest bills that otherwise would

     

  • ever pass.
  •  

     

    He wonders if this lobbyist is giving him a tip. Maybe someone had

     

    already added a coin slot

    amendment to another bill. He sprints up the

     

  • tairs and runs toward the House chamber.
  •  

     

    Gambling gets what it wants

     

     

    Wilson started lobbying for the Council of Churches in 1998 on several

     

    issues, including

    gambling. He's seen the growth of the

     

    gambling industry in the state, and its increasing

    influence

     

    under the Capitol dome.

     

     

    Wilson said the gambling industry has gotten almost everything

     

    it has wanted from the

    Legislature in the past two years: a referendum

     

    on casino gambling at The Greenbrier, no

    regulation of illegal

     

    video poker machines, and bigger superbingo prizes.

     

     

    The gambling industry has been increasing its investment in the

     

    West Virginia Legislature over

    the past decade. In 10 years, the number

     

    of gambling lobbyists at the Legislature has

    skyrocketed from

     

    two to 35.

     

     

    Gambling interests gave more than three times as much in

     

    campaign contributions to state

    legislators in 1998 than in 1996,

     

    according to the People's Election Reform Coalition. A Sunday Story Incomplete

     

     


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