Gambling idea good for budget

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. — Operators of the gambling machines seen in many convenience stores, bars and other establishments ought to be the most popular people in Charleston this week. They have a way to erase as much as $22 million of the budget shortfall with which legislators and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin are struggling.

But the operators should have found friends in the Capitol earlier this year when they made the same proposal. Even then, the governor and lawmakers knew they would have a difficult task in balancing the budget.

Legislators and Tomblin need to overcome a $270 million gap between planned spending and expected revenue for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Tax increases, spending cuts, transfers of funds and borrowing from the Rainy Day Fund have been mentioned.

As much as $22 million a year in additional revenue could flow into state coffers by making a relatively minor change in gambling laws. Legislators heard about it early in January as they were beginning their regular 60-day session.

It involves the so-called Limited Video Lottery system under which gambling machines can be operated by some businesses and fratneral organizations outside the big racetrack/casinos. About 1,300 machines are in operation now. They provide an estimated $187 million in state revenue each year.

LVL operators say they can do even better than that if they are permitted to operate more gambling devices.

Current law limits bars and clubs to five machines (fraternal organizations can have 10). Increasing those limits to seven devices for bars, clubs, etc., and 12 for fraternal groups could bring in a very substantial amount of new revenue for the state.

For one reason or another, lawmakers did not seem interested in the proposal earlier this year. Now, realizing it could make a dent in the budget shortfall, they should be willing to take notice.

There are no sure things involving gambling, of course. But the LVL operators’ plan is as close as lawmakers are likely to hear this spring – and as good a bet as any suggested to help balance the budget.

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