Monday, August 08, 2005

Dems Want to Play "Let's Make a Deal" on Gambling, WVGOP Wants Your Response

roulette wheel and craps tableThis morning, I got an e-mail from the state Republican Party. Fundraising, I thought. No; this time they wanted not money but just my thoughts and those of other Republican activists. The Democrats want to play Let's Make a Deal with our caucus on table games so they can pass the bill and have political cover in next year's elections. The e-mail I received and my response follow. If you agree with me, I hope you'll share your thoughts by e-mailing the state Republican Party at and also contact your Republican state legislators if you're fortunate enough to already have proper representation in Charleston.

The party's e-mail follows:


TO: West Virginia Republican Voters
FROM: West Virginia Republican Party
DATE: August 7, 2005
RE: Gambling Proposal -- We Need Your Input!

Recently, news reports have indicated that Governor Manchin is floating a "gambling restructuring" proposal that would:

  • Reduce the number of video slot machines available, by law, from 8,000 to 7,000; and
  • Allow a vote to legalize table games at the State's racetracks.

Supporters say that it is extremely important to stop the growth of the "mini-casinos" that are inundating our communities. They claim that this bill will reduce the number of neighborhood slot machines.

Opponents to the Manchin proposal argue that:

  • There are only 7,000 neighborhood slot machines currently outstanding. A proposal to "reduce" the number of machines available to 7,000 would result in no reduction at all.
  • The proposal is merely a ploy to expand gambling by legalizing table games.
  • The Legislature can still enact a bill to stop the growth of the "mini-casinos" - without allowing table games.

We want to know your position on this issue.

Governor Manchin has set a special session of the Legislature for September 7th. Please take a few moments to respond by e-mailing Republican Party Headquarters directly at

There's not much time! We need to hear from you as soon as possible!

My response:

The whole proposal of tying a reduction in video poker to table games is a clear sign that the Dems are desperate and are seeking our votes to get table games, and for good reason. During the regular session, a table games bill passed the Senate 19-14 with 5 Republicans--including 3 who have no tracks in their districts--voting for it. The votes aren't there to pass the bill unless at least 3 Republicans vote for it.

The movement by Governor Manchin to propose tying table games to video poker reform has the potential to plunge the Dems into the civil war many of us have been expecting since he disappointed his base by making most of his agenda watered-down versions of what we have been proposing on Worker's Compensation, tort reform, and insurance law reform. You can bet that Senate President Tomblin and Delegate Joe C. Ferrell, a video poker operator who bought the business from Senator Tomblin, will work to impede anything that would further restrict video poker. They will look after their own.

The Dems either lack the votes outright to pass a table games bill or they have so many members on their side of the aisle scared as white as a ghost about what might happen in the elections next year if they pass the bill by a razor-thin margin like the video poker will with near-unanimous Republican opposition. Six Democratic senators--Helmick, Jenkins, Oliverio, Plymale, Prezioso, and Unger--voted against the table games bill (Bowman was excused because he works for Mountaineer Park) and all of them except Helmick appear to be reliable votes against any new incarnation of table games legislation. Being forced to cast a deciding vote would force Helmick to decide between his leadership and his political career or force the leadership to risk a new ethics scandal by letting Bowman vote on the bill this time. All this is presuming that the votes are needed in the Senate. If I'm wrong and the Dems are short on votes in the House (where they control 68 seats if everyone shows up), they're in serious trouble and we should not hand them a life preserver here but maybe a few anchors instead.

The other major point to consider is that any "reduction" in video poker as a result of any deal will not be a true reduction in the number of mini-casinos that have overrun this state like kudzu in the last few years. Any such "reduction" would merely be in the form of not allowing the final 1,000 machines to go online. The state issued long-term licenses to poker operators and cannot simply cancel them on a whim. If we're going to reduce video poker, which we should, we need to work on gaining control of the Legislature and getting the votes to simply repeal the video poker law when the licenses expire.

Opposition to gambling is a huge issue to our base. West Virginia is a fundamentally conservative state, especially on social issues like abortion, guns, and gambling. Polling shows that upwards of 70% of West Virginians identify their politics as "conservative" to some degree. There is nothing to gain and everything to lose if we make a deal with the devil here. Now is not the time for compromise. We hold in our hands the sword to inflict a mortal blow to the expansion of gambling in this state and hasten our ascendancy to the majority. Any concession on this issue puts at risk the enthusiasm of our supporters and the chances our candidates for the Legislature and maybe even Shelley Moore Capito will have in the elections next year if our folks are angered and stay home. As we saw last week in Ohio, we cannot afford a deenergized Republican base. Any Republican who tries to cut a deal on this issue knowing this does so at the peril of his political career and of our party's chances at winning control of the Legislature and giving Shelley Moore Capito a promotion to Senator if she so desires.

I hope you'll agree with me and join in holding the legislative Republicans' feet to the fire. You may e-mail the state Republican Party at and also contact your Republican state legislators at the respective links.