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Video lottery pays off big in Jefferson County

March 27, 1998

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Video lottery machines at the Charles Town Races will provide Jefferson County fire and rescue companies with $100,000 this summer.

The machines also will help buy a new trash compactor for the county's Solid Waste Authority's transfer station.

The Extension Service will get a new computer.

"I don't think there's any question video lottery has been good for Jefferson County," said County Commission President R. Gregory Lance.

The video lottery machines went into Charles Town Races Sept. 10, 1997, as part of a $40 million renovation of the more than 60-year-old track.

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The new owners, Penn National, have renovated the barns and stables, put on a new facade, constructed a new simulcast racing center and installed air conditioning and fire sprinklers.

The renovation is expected to be finished in the next two weeks. After that, the parking lots will be resurfaced.

Penn National bought the track Jan. 16, 1997, after Jefferson County voters in 1996 approved a referendum allowing video lottery machines at the track.

Since then, gamblers have bet more than $30 million in cash in the machines, according to Bill Bork Jr., the track's marketing director.

The track's gambling profit was nearly $4.89 million as of March 7.

Under state law, another $3.1 million went to the state lottery and $1.4 million went to purses for horse racing, Bork said.

The county's share was $208,000 and Bork said he believes the County Commission's estimate of $400,000 by the end of the fiscal year is correct.

On Thursday, the commissioners approved a spending plan for the county's portion of the video lottery proceeds.

Charles Town Races finished last in the amount of money generated by video lottery among the four racetracks in West Virginia.

Mountaineer Park, the front-runner, had a net revenue of $35 million in the same time period.

Bork said he expects Charles Town Races to grow, saying the other three tracks have had video lottery longer and are more established.

Currently, an estimated 2,000 people are at the Silver Screen gaming room daily playing video games like Keno, blackjack and poker.

Bork said surveys have shown that about 70 percent of the crowd travels from Maryland and Virginia. Another 20 percent are West Virginians, and the rest come from elsewhere.

Tony Carone, owner of Carousel Antiques near the entrance to Charles Town Races, said video lottery is bringing people into town, but they're not stopping to shop.

"There's great potential, but it's not happened yet," Carone said. "People going to the racetrack from out of the community drive like they're entering a tunnel. They don't see anything else."

Dorothy McGhee of Shepherdstown, W.Va., a vocal opponent of video lottery before the referendum, said she remains opposed to the machines, but concedes that Penn National has come through on making improvements to the track.

"As a critic, I'm very much pleased with what they've done with the facility there," she said.

But McGhee said she has concerns about whether the video lottery machines hurt people financially by enticing them to gamble. She said she is worried about whether crime has increased because people spend their money on gambling, then need to commit crimes to raise more money.

Charles Town Police Chief Mike Aldridge and Jefferson County Sheriff William Senseney said they have not noticed any increases in crime that could be attributed to gambling.

Traffic has increased, but they said the growth in prostitution, drug dealing and robberies that opponents predicted before gambling hasn't happened.

Jefferson County Commissioner Edgar R. Ridgeway remains unconvinced, saying gambling is bad for the county.

"I haven't changed my mind on this," Ridgeway said. "But at this point, it's helping us financially."

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