Essential reporting in volatile times.

Not a Subscriber yet? Click here to take advantage of All access digital limited time offer $5.99 per month EZ Pay.

Interested in Donating? Click #ISupportLocal for more information on supporting local journalism.

Just before 11 p.m. March 13, 1999, the Rev. Nathan Wilson walks out of the Senate chamber.It's the last night of the session, and he is going home to his wife and baby after 14 hours oflobbying at the West Virginia Legislature. Minutes before, the Senate had rejected a gambling bill that Wilson fought against all session.The bill would have allowed West Virginia's racetracks to introduce new "coin slot" machines.These are what most people think of when you say slot machine - pull a lever or push a button,and the wheels spin around. When they stop, if you match up the diamonds, cherries or 7s in theright order, coins cascade from the bottom. The racetracks knew that if they got coin slots, their profits would

  • kyrocket, but first theyneeded a change in the law. Wilson's bosses
  • at the West Virginia Council of Churches fearedthose profits would come mostly from people who couldn't afford it. Wilson thought they had won- two times that night, the Senate rejected the coin slot bill. Elated and relieved, Wilson walks down the marble stairs. But a gambling lobbyist stops him inthe hallway. For reasons still unclear to Wilson, the lobbyist tells him that the coin slotbill is far from dead. It could be attached as an amendment to other bills in the last hour ofthe session. Wilson knows lobbyists and lawmakers use the chaos of the last night of the session to slipthrough special interest bills that otherwise would

  • ever pass.
  • He wonders if this lobbyist is giving him a tip. Maybe someone had already added a coin slotamendment to another bill. He sprints up the

  • tairs and runs toward the House chamber.
  • Gambling gets what it wants Wilson started lobbying for the Council of Churches in 1998 on several issues, includinggambling. He's seen the growth of the gambling industry in the state, and its increasinginfluence under the Capitol dome. Wilson said the gambling industry has gotten almost everything it has wanted from theLegislature in the past two years: a referendum on casino gambling at The Greenbrier, noregulation of illegal video poker machines, and bigger superbingo prizes. The gambling industry has been increasing its investment in the West Virginia Legislature overthe past decade. In 10 years, the number of gambling lobbyists at the Legislature hasskyrocketed from two to 35. Gambling interests gave more than three times as much in campaign contributions to statelegislators in 1998 than in 1996, according to the People's Election Reform Coalition. A Sunday Story Incomplete