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Statehouse beat: Family ties don't help now

Word that Revenue Secretary Charlie Lorensen has consolidated the state Lottery Commission, Racing Commission and Alcohol Beverage Control Administration under new Deputy Secretary John Musgrave has state thoroughbred horse breeders up in arms.

Recall that, in 2009, the horse breeders shot down a similar attempt by then-Gov. Joe Manchin to consolidate the agencies as a state Gaming Commission, fearing it was a backdoor effort to raid the thoroughbred purse and breeders' fund programs.

In 2009, the vocal opposition was led by Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, who is no longer in the Legislature. Meanwhile, the other factors prompting the Gaming Commission proposal have become more acute.

With Lottery revenues being squeezed by new casino competition in border states, and with overall state revenues lagging, raiding the $87 million pool of money that goes to thoroughbred and greyhound breeders each year will look more and more tempting to the Legislature and executive branch.

And, as always, the management of the state's four racetrack-casinos would be more than happy to have them become casino-casinos.

The thoroughbred breeders have banked on the Tomblin family's ties to greyhound breeding to protect them, but greyhound racing in general, and the Tomblin Kennel's revenues from greyhound breeding, have been on a sharp decline in recent years.

One can be sure Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed off on the reorganization, so that evidently isn't an issue.

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Speaking of Lottery, limited video lottery has always been the bastard child of the state's gaming interests, which is no surprise, given its origins out of the state's quasi-illegal gray machine industry.

On some levels, its hard to generate much sympathy for LVL licensees who just learned they will have to replace or make major upgrades to 6,880 of their nearly 7,500 LVL machines now in operation, at a cost of somewhere between $20 million to more than $100 million, or have those machines go out of service by the end of 2017.

Many of those same LVL distributors and retail locations provided and operated gray machines for years, at considerable profit, and LVL operators and retailers currently divvy up nearly $200 million a year in profits on the LVL machines -- profits generated in no small part by preying on problem gamblers by providing convenience gambling practically at their doorsteps.

On the other hand, within the LVL industry, there are the haves and have-nots -- from the mega-distributors like Southern Amusement and Derrick Video, and busy gaming "hot spots" like the Mimi's chain that account for most of the LVL profits, down to mom-and-pop bars and clubs where the LVL machines are the difference between operating at a profit or loss.

Consider Kanawha County where, in January, the top eight LVL "hot spots" each generated profits in excess of $50,000, topped by Mimi's on Patrick Street, which cleared $85,807 for the month.

At the other extreme, a dozen LVL locations in the county generated profits of under $2,000 for the month (less than $65 a day) -- with two locations losing money, including the Blue Parrot, which paid out $3,433 more than it took in.

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Finally, after the Ethics Commission meeting Thursday, I went to the Clay Center to pick up tickets at will call, and met a businessman from Los Angeles who had walked over from the Fairfield Inn.

He asked if the symphony was any good, and I replied that I thought so, although I certainly claim no expertise when it comes to classical music.

He commented, "Who would have thought West Virginia would have its own symphony orchestra?"

Which made me think of all those tourism surveys that conclude most Americans don't have a negative impression of West Virginia, they simply don't have any impression.

Which made me further think about the perception of the first season of "Buckwild" from the viewpoint of its target audience of 18- to 34-year-olds.

From that standpoint, they saw that West Virginia has at least two lively nightclubs, eclectic shops and restaurants (Taylor Books, Bluegrass Kitchen, and Stray Dog Antiques among those featured), nearly limitless opportunities for outdoor recreation, as well as some attractive young ladies, and some clueless young men. (Not to mention a cameo by Delegate Doug Skaff.)

They saw some young twentysomethings doing the dumb things that twentysomethings tend to do -- particularly those abetted with resources from a television production company.

But what I noted most were the exterior shots used for scene transitions. On my reality show fav, "Honey Boo Boo," those shots tend to be trash dumps, abandoned cars, or other disparaging images of south-central Georgia.

There was some of that on "Buckwild," but mostly shots of waterfalls, scenic vistas, wildlife -- scenes one would normally expect to see in a Division of Tourism video.

For all the fuss from Sen. Joe Manchin or Charleston's Alisa Bailey, for its target audience, it can be argued "Buckwild" in its own way has portrayed West Virginia in a favorable light.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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