Debate continues over video gambling at race track

October 18, 1997


Staff Writer

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Jefferson County Commissioner Edgar Ridgeway opposed allowing video gambling at Charles Town Races before the referendum last November and he's seen nothing to change his mind since the Silver Screen Gaming Room opened.

"I'll remain opposed to it until the day I die," Ridgeway said. "I'm a Republican and a Presbyterian so I don't change my mind."

Others throughout Jefferson County said they believe the Silver Screen Gaming Room is one of the best things to happen to the track.


"It's more spectacular than we ever dreamed it would be," said Ranson Mayor David Hamill.

Hamill said the increase in crime and other problems some critics had said would come with the start of video gambling has not been seen in Ranson.

"That sort of thing is easier to control in a smaller town like ours," Hamill said.

Jefferson County Commissioner President James Knode said Penn National has done everything that was promised by them.

"It's going to provide a boost to the horse racing industry," Knode said.

The track had closed before voters passed a referendum last November to allow video gambling at the track. Penn National Gaming Inc. bought the facility and has spent about $20 million in renovations.

"I'd like to think we've lived up to our promise to you," Penn National Gaming Chief Executive Officer Peter Carlino Jr. told a crowd of about 650 Friday night at the opening celebration of the Silver Screen Gaming Room.

"This will be the finest small race track in America," Carlino said.

But Ridgeway and others remain opposed to video gambling on moral grounds.

"My opposition is to gambling in any form," said the Rev. Ernest Lyles of Shepherdstown.

Lyles said he thinks more ministers should be speaking out against the gambling at the track.

"I don't know why the clergy have been so quiet on this issue. I wish I could find the answer," Lyles said.

Ridgeway said he believes video gambling will lead to problems such as increased traffic congestion and crime, as well as "a moral decline in the community."

"I heard a young man at a grocery store, twenties, fairly articulate, talking to people very loudly of the beauty of the casino and the guy proceeded to pay for his groceries with food stamps," he said.

Carlino said that he has no answer for those who oppose gambling for moral reasons.

"We're here to provide entertainment," he said.

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