Concerns over too little tax revenue and increased traffic in Jefferson County are believed to have led to the defeat of a June 9 referendum on table games at Charles Town Races & Slots in West Virginia.
Voters in Ohio County, however, endorsed plans to put blackjack, poker, and other table games alongside video lottery terminals at Wheeling Island Racetrack & Gaming Center, a Greyhound facility.
With all 30 precincts reporting, Jefferson County voters rejected the table games option for Charles Town 56% to 44%. The defeat means Pennsylvania-based Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns the racetrack, must wait two years before putting the issue before voters again.
"We are obviously disappointed with the results, but we look forward to continuing to work with state, local, and community officials in order to find a way to keep Charles Town Races & Slots competitive as gaming continues to expand in nearby states," PNGI executive John Finamore said.
Horsemen at Charles Town didn't take a position on table games. The legislation that allowed the local referendums called for purses to get 2% of gross revenue, and breed development another 2%. The state's Thoroughbred breeding industry is concentrated around Charles Town.
Kevin McCoy, director of the Christian group West Virginia Family Foundation, called the table-games votes "excellent news for the citizens" of Jefferson County. The foundation will begin advertising in two other counties scheduled for table-games votes within the next week or so, on television and radio, he said.
A vote in Hancock County, where Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort is located, is set for June 30. Kanawha County, home of Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center, a Greyhound track, will vote Aug. 11.
The state legislature endorsed a measure this year that allowed voters in the four counties to decide if their respective tracks could offer table games as a way to combat the introduction of slot machines in Pennsylvania. Ohio County's approval means West Virginia is the 12th state in the nation to have a full-fledged casino gambling with machines and table games. It becomes the second in the nation, behind Iowa, to offer live racing, slots, and table games in a single location.
With all 39 precincts reporting, the referendum to allow Wheeling Island to expand its gambling offerings won 66% to 34%. West Virginia's industrialized Northern Panhandle has been beset by economic woes including the loss of thousands of steel industry jobs in recent years, and the track's campaign focused on the chance to create new jobs and launch millions of dollars' worth of new construction.
Unlike Ohio County, Jefferson County, located on the Maryland border in eastern West Virginia, is not reeling from the decline of the industrial economy, and voters there expressed worries about the increased possibility of crime and sprawl if the track expanded its operations.
Mountaineer is located about 45 minutes north of Wheeling Island in a county with similar economic issues. Table games are being touted as a way to offer good-paying jobs in Hancock County.