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WISE PLAN WOULD TAX PAYOUTS FROM 'GRAY MACHINES'

Gambling money funds a cornerstone of Bob Wise's campaign: Promise

 

Scholarships. The new program would pay the in-state tuition for students

 

with a "B" average or better in high school.

 

 

To pay for it, the Democrat wants to tax payouts from

 

video poker machines, payouts that are now illegal outside of the

 

  • tate's four racetracks.
  •  

     

    If Wise can't get the state Legislature to pass regulations on

     

    video poker, he said he would move to enforce the laws against

     

    payouts. State government should either legalize and regulate

     

    gambling or strictly enforce laws against it, he said.

     

     

    "Now we're in the worst of all worlds. We're not controlling where they

     

    are and who's using them, or getting any taxes," Wise said. "We

     

  • hould regulate, reduce and tax machines - or take them out."
  •  

     

    Currently, the machines, commonly called "gray machines," are found in

     

    taverns and some convenience stores. While billed as "for amusement only,"

     

    the machines are widely used for gambling.

     

     

    Wise may support legalizing gray machines, but gambling

     

    interests in the state are putting their money on his Republican opponent,

     

    Gov. Cecil Underwood. They gave Underwood's campaign more than $40,000 as

     

    of the end of May. Wise has received $9,750, about one-quarter that

     

    amount, according to the nonpartisan People's Election Reform Coalition,

     

    which has assembled a database of campaign contributors and their

     

    occupations. Gambling interests include people who own an interest in or

     

    work for racetracks, "gray machine" distributors, or The Greenbrier, or

     

    their immediate families.

     

     

    Opponents of gambling questioned whether Wise's plan would take

     

    money from low-income people who play video lottery and give it to

     

    middle-income college students. Tom Burger works for the United Methodist

     

    Church in West Virginia, which opposes using gambling money to fund even

     

    worthwhile projects like college scholarships.

     

     

    "This kind of gambling takes advantage of the poor anyway," Burger

     

  • aid. "I find it ironic to use funds gained in this way to pay for folks
  •  

    who might be in a better position to fund their own education."

     

     

    Wise said his scholarships would benefit low-income students as

     

    well as wealthier ones, though he would be willing to think about basing

     

    the Promise Scholarships on financial need as well as academic

     

    achievement. He also disputed whether low-income people are the majority

     

    of video poker gamblers.

     

     

    "My observation is that all economic groups are pushing the button,"

     

    Wise said. "If I play this machine, at least I get one guaranteed

     

    payout."

     

     

    But the Rev. Nathan Wilson disagrees with that observation. Wilson is

     

    an anti-gambling activist and director of the West Virginia Council of

     

    Churches.

     

     

    "Every study I've read says low-income people are disproportionately

     

    hurt by gambling," Wilson said.

     

     

    Wilson also questioned the wisdom of basing a major social program on a

     

    funding source like gambling, which is subject to wide fluctuations. The

     

    program is estimated to cost $25 million in its first year. Wise

     

  • aid at least he has found a funding source for the program.
  •  

     

    "There's nothing more unstable than having no source of funding, which

     

    is the present situation," Wise said.

     

     

    Wise supported giving Greenbrier County voters the option to

     

    allow casino gambling at The Greenbrier hotel. He would not rule out

     

    giving other counties the same option, although he said he'd be reluctant

     

    to do so. Wise's campaign manager, Steve F. White of the Charleston law

     

    firm Goodwin and Goodwin, has lobbied for a state racetrack at the

     

    Legislature.

     

     

    Wise criticized Underwood for refusing to use state troopers to

     

  • top illegal payouts on video poker machines. New machines are
  •  

    coming up from South Carolina and taking over the state like kudzu and the

     

    fire ant, he said.

     

     

    Wise joked that he might name Cabell County Sheriff Hercil

     

    Gartin to enforce gambling laws in the state. Gartin has made headlines

     

    with several raids on establishments where illegal video poker machines

     

    payouts have been witnessed.

     

     

    "If Sheriff Gartin can do it in Cabell County, why can't the State

     

    Police?" Wise said.

     

     

    To contact staff writer Scott Finn, use e-mail or call 357-4323.

     

     


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