West Virginia Table-Games Bill Altered

Legislation endorsed by the West Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee would allow casino-style table games at the four racetracks in the state, but the panel also doubled the state tax on the games from 12% to 24%.

The four tracks--Charles Town Races & Slots and Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort, both Thoroughbred, and Tri-State Racetrack and Entertainment 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.

The measure approved the Senate committee also rejected a proposal to require a statewide vote on the question, which preserves local option elections for the tracks' host counties. The bill no longer requires a county commission to authorize the local vote.

Before it advances to the Senate Finance Committee, the bill was amended to require the state and the tracks to each set aside $500,000 a year from their proceeds for racing workers' pensions. A second amendment would allot another $250,000 from each for gambling counseling.

The bill's chief supporter plans to ask the Senate Finance Committee to restore the 12% tax. The West Virginia Racing Association, which includes the tracks, also wants the pension amendment removed, citing ongoing talks with labor groups over retirement benefits for workers, president John Cavacini said.

The state Council of Churches, meanwhile, vowed to oppose the bill and demand a statewide referendum.

VLTs at West Virginia tracks generated $371 million for the state last year. Supporters believe table games will stem the loss of gamblers and revenue to Pennsylvania, where the first slots could be operational by the end of 2006.

The bill would devote 86% of West Virginia's table games take to the general revenue budget. It assigns smaller percentages to purses, the host counties and municipalities, racing pensions, and the state's tourism program.

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.