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Gaming room may open today

September 09, 1997

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The lights on the bright red video gaming machines flashed Tuesday at Charles Town Races as workers set up chairs, bartenders learned to operate the cash registers and a construction crew hurried to finish up the front entrance.

The long-anticipated opening of the Silver Screen Gaming Room may occur today, but track officials were uncertain Tuesday whether the work would be finished.

Charles Town Races marketing director Bill Bork Jr. said the machines were still being tested Tuesday and construction work was still under way.

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The track hoped to have the work done in time so that the gamblers could start playing the first 244 machines that have been set up.

But track officials were keeping the opening low-key because final touches on the room were incomplete and because they were concerned that too many people would show up with too few machines running, Bork said.

"We don't want people waiting in line for two hours to play a machine," he said.

One of the things being tested on the machines is the pay out, the number of times that a gambler wins on the machine, he said.

Voters approved the video lottery last November after earlier efforts had led to defeat. Penn National then bought the closed thoroughbred track and resumed horse racing while the track undergoes an $18 million renovation.

New stables have been built, improvements were made to the kitchen and dining room at the club house and work is under way to improve the lobby for simulcast racing fans, Bork said.

Track officials had initially planned to have the video gaming room open by July, but it was delayed by a contract dispute on the machines and by unexpected construction work.

"I've been waiting for this," said Valerie Plummer, 50, of Ft. Pierce, Fla. Plummer said she traveled to Charles Town last year to play the horses and returned this year expecting to find the gaming room open.

"I've got to experience it first to know if I'll really like it," Plummer said.

George Griffith, 54, of Loudoun County, Va., said he thinks the gaming room will be a nice draw for the track, where he regularly gambles.

"I'm a pony man, but I'll play the machines," Griffith said.

Griffith said people who normally would travel to Atlantic City, N.J., from this area probably will come to Charles Town instead.

The track plans to celebrate the official grand opening of the gaming room on Oct. 17, when at least 400 machines will be running, Bork said.

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