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
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
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
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
But the Rev. Nathan Wilson disagrees with that observation. Wilson is
an anti-gambling activist and director of the West Virginia Council of
"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
"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
Wise criticized Underwood for refusing to use state troopers to
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.