Local Votes on Table Games Begin in West Virginia

Two of four racetracks in West Virginia will find out June 9 whether they will be permitted to install casino-style table games.

Legislation passed earlier this year allows each county where the tracks are located to hold a referendum on the gambling expansion. The tracks already have video lottery terminals operated by the state.

Charles Town Races & Slots, located in Jefferson County in the state’s Eastern Panhandle, and Wheeling Island Racetrack & Gaming Center, a Greyhound facility located in Ohio County between Pennsylvania and Ohio in the Northern Panhandle, have advertised heavily to win support for table games. Proponents are calling table games a jobs and economic development issue.

Charles Town is located about 90 minutes from Baltimore. Full casino gambing at the West Virginia would provide more competition for Maryland tracks that currently are seeking legislative approval to install slot machines.

The legislation taxes gross revenue from table games at 35%. Of that amount, the state will award 2% to purses for Thoroughbred and Greyhound racing, and 2% to breed development programs for horses and dogs. A provision in an earlier version of the bill that called for purses to receive 6% met with opposition at the state capital.

Voters in Hancock County, where Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort is located, will go to the polls June 30. Kanawha County, where Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center, a Greyhound facility, is located, has a vote scheduled for Aug. 11.

Tri-State is located about 40 minutes from the Kentucky border and about 2 1/2 hours from Lexington. With table games, Tri-State would provide more fuel for those attempting to stoke up the fire for racetrack casino gambling in Kentucky during next year's General Assembly session.

Tri-State, just off Interstate 64 west of Charleston, recently made public its plans to spend at least $250 million to add a hotel, conference center, new gaming area, and parking garage. Mountaineer and Wheeling Island already have hotels, while Charles Town has one in the works.

Expansion of gambling is opposed by the West Virginia Council of Churches and the West Virginia Values Coalition, which are getting out the word through a “No Dice” campaign. Aside from racetrack VLTs, West Virginia also permits small numbers of VLTs at various establishments around the state.

The Associated Press reported more than 6% of registered voters already had cast ballots in Jefferson and Ohio counties as of June 4. Some believe many of the early votes are “pro” votes.