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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





    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


  • 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





    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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