By Joselyn King
The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register Staff
WHEELING, W.Va. — A move by the West Virginia Legislature to increase the number of limited video lottery machines permitted at one location — while gradually decreasing the overall number of LVL retail outlets — could mean an additional $20 million for the cash-strapped state this year, and as much as $15 million annually in succeeding years.
A measure passed this year raises the number of devices a licensed LVL retailer can operate at one location from five to seven, and LVL operators across the state are preparing to bid on at least 750 video lottery machines coming up for bid Aug. 2, according to Wheeling resident Anthony J. “Herk” Sparachane, president of the West Virginia Amusement and Limited Video Lottery Association.
The bidding process is expected to generate by itself about $5 million for fiscal year 2018, while each of the additional terminals comes with a $1,000 permit fee.
And a Marshall University study estimates $12 million to $15 million in tax revenue also would be generated annually by the additional devices in the coming years, Sparachane said.
He added there are presently about 6,700 LVL machines in West Virginia located in about 1,333 locations, and the legislation passed seeks to lower the overall number of locations to fewer than 1,250 before current permits expire in 2021.
West Virginia already has made moves to reduce the number of both LVL devices and retail locations, according to Sparachane. A decade ago, there were 8,400 machines across the state, and 1,800 retail locations.
He believes placing more machines at fewer — though more profitable — locations will result in more tax revenue for West Virginia.
“The state needs more income, and they want them in better locations,”Sparachane said. “The small places can’t make it. It’s about survival of the fittest now. What we’ve been telling the state is, if you are in the gambling business, you can’t halfway do it. You have to go in all together, or you don’t do it.”
He said the West Virginia Amusement and Limited Video Lottery Association for 10 years has been pressing the state to increase the number of LVL machines, while decreasing the number of locations.
Laws pertaining to the operation of LVLs in West Virginia were written in 2000, and much has changed since then. Increases in the minimum wage for employees, as well as other expenses pertaining to the operation of the machines, has made it “harder for the little guy to survive as costs go up,” according to Sparachane.
“The state kept waiting and waiting, and there was money to be made,” he said.
Sparachane had planned to step down as association president last October, but the group’s lobbyist, Michael Haid, convinced him to stay on “one more year,” as he sensed a new gubernatorial administration would be more receptive to the association’s ideas.
Now that the measure has been signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice and bidding for the LVLs is scheduled, Sparachane said he plans to retire from the position in October.