GAMBLING'S MONEY IS ON UNDERWOOD
This is the latest in an occasional series focusing on the issues,
records and platforms of the state's candidates for governor. Today's
installment focuses on gambling.
Gov. Cecil Underwood says he is "very much opposed to the
extension of gambling." Critics say gambling has expanded more rapidly on
Underwood's watch than ever before.
The number of legal video lottery machines in West Virginia increased
from 1,900 in 1996 to 5,300 today, according to the state Lottery
Commission. Total lottery sales have doubled, from $210 million in 1996 to
$448 million for the year ending June 30, 2000.
The Republican's record on gambling doesn't match the rhetoric, said
the Rev. Nathan Wilson, executive director for the West Virginia Council
of Churches and anti-gambling activist.
"Governor Underwood wants it both ways," Wilson said. "When he
ran for office, he said time and again he opposed the expansion. But
there's very little evidence that he's done anything proactive or reactive
to limit expansion."
Gambling interests in the state are putting their money on
Underwood this election. They gave his campaign more than $40,000
as of the end of May. Underwood's opponent, Rep. Bob Wise, has received
$9,750, 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.
"There's extreme disappointment in the anti-gambling community with the
Underwood administration," Wilson said. He gave several examples of
what he considered to be Underwood failing to live up to his
- Coin-drop slots: Underwood allowed a bill legalizing coin-drop
amended into a bill paying for repairs at the Capitol on the last night of
the session. He did not veto or sign the bill, allowing it to become law
without his signature.
"While this legislation does not increase the public's access to video
gambling, I am concerned about the effect it will have on our low-income
citizens," Underwood said after the bill's passage. "At the same
time, the Legislature incorporated revenues from the video games into the
- Video poker ("gray machines"): Underwood opposes legalizing or
regulating the video poker machines often found in bars and some
convenience stores. In June, he instructed the West Virginia State Police
to work cooperatively with local officials in their investigations of
illegal gambling using the video machines. But he said State Police can't
be expected to shut down illegal payments from video poker machines.
"The police officer has to see the payoff," Underwood said.
"That means constant surveillance. I don't think its practical to tie up
State Police for endless surveillance."
Underwood said the lottery commission makes decisions about
expansion of legal video lottery machines at racetracks, not him.
Underwood does appoint people to the seven-member commission, who
then must receive state Senate approval.
- Greenbrier casino: Underwood supported a bill that could pave
the way for casino gambling at The Greenbrier hotel. The bill allows
Greenbrier County citizens to vote on the issue. Since his 1996 campaign,
Underwood has supported giving local citizens the option to vote on
gambling at The Greenbrier, calling it an economic development issue.
Underwood would not rule out giving other local communities the
option to vote on gambling expansion, like voters in Greenbrier County
will do this November.
"Each thing must be considered on its own merits," he said.
Underwood opposes riverboat gambling, for economic as well as
moral reasons. He calls it "a risky gamble" for communities.
"They can untie the boat and leave if business is not good," he said.
To contact staff writer Scott Finn, use e-mail or call 357-4323.