Senate OKs Table Games at West Virginia Racinos

West Virginia's four racetracks moved a stepped closer to becoming full-scale casinos March 28 when the state Senate approved legislation to legalize table games at the facilities.

The measure passed on a 19-14 vote. It now goes to the House of Delegates.

When asked of the bill's chances for passage, Sen. Andy McKenzie told the Charleston Gazette: "I think they're excellent."

Several amendments, including one to require a statewide referendum on whether to allow the four host counties to vote to authorize table games at their tracks, were rejected, the newspaper reported.

The four tracks--Charles Town Races & Slots and Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort, both Thoroughbred, and Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center and Wheeling Island Gaming, both Greyhound facilities--currently have video lottery terminals. They have lobbied for table games given impending competition from slot machines in neighboring Pennsylvania.

VLTs at West Virginia tracks generated $371 million for the state last year. Supporters believe table games such as blackjack and craps will stem the loss of gamblers and revenue to Pennsylvania, where the first slots could be operational in 2006. Mountaineer and Wheeling Island have hotels on their property.

Of the revenue raised from a 23.5% tax on table games, 86% would go to the state's general fund. Purses would get 8% based of adjusted gross receipts at each track. Smaller percentages would go to the host counties and municipalities, racing pensions, and the state's tourism program.

Revenue from table games generally pales in comparison to revenue from slots or VLTs, but track officials believe table games would help lure more patrons.

Of the VLT revenue, purses receive 14% at Charles Town and 15.5% at Mountaineer. Another 1.5% at Charles Town goes toward breed development programs for state-breds.