Last-minute bill puts Charles Town on track

April 14, 1997

From staff and wire reports

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Charles Town Races would have been unable to reopen this year without the last-minute approval of a gambling bill by the House of Delegates, track officials said Monday.

The bill to lower the minimum number of racing days a track must hold passed the House 54-40 with only minutes left in the legislative session Saturday night.

Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said that without the bill, millions of dollars in tax revenue would have been lost.

The bill would lower to 159 the minimum number of live racing days the Eastern Panhandle horse track must have. It would lower the minimum for all other tracks from 220 to 210 live racing days, and would set up a procedure by which a track could appeal to have that number reduced.


If a track cannot stage races because of a shortage of horses or bad weather, for example, it could ask the state racing commission to lower the number to 185.

Bill Bork Jr., Charles Town Races marketing director, said he was glad the bill passed. "We were almost positive it would," he said.

Roger Ramey, vice president of public affairs for Charles Town Races, said the track could not have legally reopened without the bill. The first race is tentatively scheduled for April 30, he said.

Ramey said the track would not have been able to meet a 220-day minimum with an April 30 reopening.

Bork said in order to get in that many racing days, the track would have had to open around Jan. 1.

The track also faces a shortage of horses, he said. It needs about 1,400 to stage an adequate number of races and has about half that number training.

Gov. Cecil Underwood's spokesman Rod Blackstone said he believes the bill will be signed into law by the governor.

"I cannot tell you definitively yes the governor is going to sign it until it comes down," Blackstone said. "However, with that sort of ... caveat we do not see any reason why he would not sign that," Blackstone said. "

"But we've got to look and make sure what all the legislation includes before officially committing to that," he said.

Jefferson County voters approved video gambling at the track in November, and the oval is being remodeled. Penn National Gaming Inc. of Wyomissing, Pa., the track's new owner, is installing 400 video lottery machines and plans to ask permission for 600 more.

The track has been closed since early November and most of its 400 employees laid off.

Doyle said the bill also would end double taxation on signal transmission for simulcasting. Under current law, both the track that is broadcasting a live race and the track receiving the signal pay a tax.

The bill would force only the receiver to pay.

The legislation also means an additional $400,000 for the state's thoroughbred development fund, $800,000 for the West Virginia Breeders' Classic and $600,000 for a greyhound breeders' development fund, Doyle said.

The greyhound provision was inserted by the Senate.

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