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Bankroll: West Virginia’s coffers need the return of gambling

Getting legalized gambling back up and running in West Virginia may not seem a high priority as we prepare to “reopen” our state. But when we’re talking about our state’s economy, it should be.

Gov. Jim Justice’s order a few weeks ago to close casinos and limited video lottery outlets — the bars, stores, etc., with electronic slot machines — made sense. By their very nature, gambling establishments would be meccas for contagious disease.

But, as with any business, closures of wagering establishments have consequences. West Virginians got an inkling of them last Wednesday, when the state Lottery Commission released its March revenue report.

In February, gambling operations brought $95 million into state coffers. March revenue was just $59 million — and that reflected only a partial-month shutdown. April’s numbers may be abysmal. Blame closures of the casinos and LVL outlets.

Blame them, too, for tens of millions of dollars lost to the five casinos and hundreds of small LVL outlets — as well as for thousands of job layoffs.

While there may be a time when West Virginians debate the wisdom of relying so much on revenue from an industry whose critics make some good points about the damage it can do, now is not that time.

The sooner we can safely get legalized gambling back in full swing, the better.

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