CHARLESTON – Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office has ruled State Tax Department officials have legal authority to monitor and crack down on illegal raffle slot machines in the state.

In his opinion, Deputy AG Ronald Brown states that raffle ticket dispenser machines, which resemble video slot machines, are legal but only if they meet five specific criteria.

The criteria include prohibition on raffle machines that directly pay winnings to players or providing winners with credits so they can continue playing.

The ruling comes after Tax Commissioner Christopher Morris inquired Jan. 16 about his office's rights to regulate the machines.

The request came after Morris heard incidents of machines appearing in various parts of the state, but one week before a raid in a Clarksburg bingo hall where Harrison County authorities seized 144 of the raffle slot machines.

"I'd like to express my appreciation to the Attorney General, and his staff, for their thorough review and quick response to my request for guidance on this complex issue," Morris said in a prepared statement.

If operators are found to be running the illegal machines, there are a number of ways Brown provides in his opinion for Tax Division officials to deal with the problem.

First, they could revoke or suspend the operator's charitable bingo and raffle license.

Second, they could prosecute for a violation of state charitable bingo and raffle law. The charge would result in a misdemeanor and first-time offenders could face fines of $100 to $1,000.

Officials could also prosecute for the conduction of a fraudulent or deceptive raffle. That is a felony and offenders could face a fine of up to $10,000, one to five years in prison, or both.

Operators could also face prosecution for possession of an illegal gambling device, also a felony. For that charge, offenders could face one to three years in prison.

For the Clarksburg bingo hall's violation of West Virginia's charitable gaming laws, the charitable bingo and charitable raffle licenses of the hall will be revoked on Feb. 25. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks in Clarksburg also has to pay a penalty of $100,000.

The West Virginia State Tax Department Criminal Investigation Division also found the Eastern Panhandle Youth Football League in violation of charitable gaming laws. About 100 illegal video gambling devices were found on the site where the league conducts its licensed charitable bingo activities and charitable raffle activities.

The Eastern Panhandle Youth Football League is now facing a six-month suspension of its charitable bingo and raffle licenses beginning on Feb. 25 and has been ordered to pay $50,000.

The first move for State Tax Department Officials will be to inform charitable bingo and raffle operators that the raffle ticket dispenser machines are illegal, Morris said.

"Based upon the Attorney General's opinon, The State Tax Department will immediately reach out to all charitable licenses with charitable raffle ticket dispenser machines in order to ensure that these entities and their machines are compliant with West Virginia's charitable gaming laws,"' he said.

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