by John Kady
The West Virginia Senate voted 20–13 March 6 to legalize table games at the state’s horse and dog racing tracks. The bill, which had passed the House of Delegates, was amended in the Senate and now must return to the House for concurrence or rejection of the amendments.
Following the House action, the bill will probably go to conference committee to iron out the differences between the two chambers. It would then be returned for votes in both the Senate and the House, and if passed, would go to Gov. Joe Manchin for his signature or veto.
One of the Senate amendments calls for a local-option vote by residents of the counties in which the tracks are located. If approved by local voters, the tracks would be allowed to set offer blackjack poker, craps, and roulette.
The four tracks in the state already have video lottery terminals. The two Thoroughbred facilities are Charles Town Races & Slots and Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort; the two Greyhound tracks are Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center and Wheeling Island Gaming.
A spokeswoman for Wheeling Island, like Mountaineer located in the Northern Panhandle region of West Virginia between Ohio and Pennsylvania, said table games would bring in an estimated $10 million a year in revenue for Wheeling Island alone.
Resident of Ohio County, where Wheeling Island is located, and further north in Hancock County, where Mountaineer is located, are expected to pass any referendum on expanded gambling. The Wheeling Island spokeswoman said if the bill becomes law, the track would begin construction of space for table games including blackjack, poker, roulette, and craps.
The state will get 35% of table games revenue and will charge each track a $2.5-million license fee to operate the games.
Meanwhile, the revenue splits in the legislation have changed; the racing industry will get less. Of the state's share of gaming revenue, purses for Thoroughbred and Greyhound racing will get 2.5%, while 2% will go to the respective breed development funds. Meanwhile, pension plans for racetrack employees will get 4%.