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
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 anti-gambling promises: - Coin-drop slots: Underwood
allowed a bill legalizing coin-drop lot machines at state racetracks to become law. The "Coin Slot Bill" was
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 ew budget, and I do not want to begin the next fiscal year with a $9.6
million deficit." - 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.