WV Court: Ejection Appeals Can Be Heard

A West Virginia circuit court judge has rejected an attempt by Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races to keep the West Virginia Racing Commission from holding hearings for individuals who want to appeal their ejection from the racetrack.

It’s the latest in a legal back-and-forth between Charles Town owner Penn National Gaming Inc. and the WVRC, which earlier this year adopted revised regulations that allow it to consider appeals and hold hearings. PNGI contends the commission acted in violation of state common law.

PNGI filed a notice it intended to sue, and did so just before the first appeal hearing was to be held by the commission April 27.

In a May 2 opinion, Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Tod Kaufman denied a request by PNGI to stay the ejection appeal hearings and dismissed the case.

“The public interest cannot lie in delaying or denying (the hearing rescheduled for May 3) because PNGI is going to have show up at an ejection hearing and actually demonstrate it has ejected a permit holder in compliance with the commission’s legislative rule,” Kaufman wrote. “Whether, in the end, the racing commission is ultimately affirmed as to the specifics of this process the judicial or legislative branches remains to be seen.”

Penn National, in its petition for writ of prohibition and complaint for declaratory judgment, said the newly enacted regulation was “improperly promulgated” by the WVRC because it wasn’t presented to the state legislature for approval. The company said it exercised its common law right to eject Wade Sanderson and his sister, Patricia Sanderson, for whom the first appeals hearing was scheduled.

The Sandersons were ejected in December 2011 for “irresponsible conduct in handling fiscal matters.” PNGI said the conduct "reflected negatively on the company and racing business in general.”

PNGI argued all hearings held by the WVRC before the case is resolved will be “improperly conducted.”

WVRC deputy attorney general Kelli Talbott, in her filing, claimed PNGI is trying to negate a ruling by the West Virginia Supreme Court, which upheld the commission’s right to hold the hearing. She said the commission has done its part in soliciting comments from PNGI and other stakeholders before rules are adopted.

“It appears nothing will suffice as far as PNGI is concerned short of the commission folding up shop, handing over the keys of the racing commission to PNGI, and letting PNGI regulate itself,” Talbott said.

Other appeal hearings already have been scheduled by the WVRC.

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