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Track's slots strategy could raise 'big stink'

September 24, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Charles Town Races employees are being encouraged to attend a public hearing on the track's proposal to add 500 slot machines "to help reduce" the number of opponents at the hearing, according to a letter sent to workers.

A local minister who is opposed to the slots expansion said he is concerned about the track's intentions.

If the track is trying to keep slot machine opponents out of the hearing "they could really have a big stink" on their hands, said the Rev. Michael Withem said.

In a Sept. 10 letter, track president James Buchanan encouraged employees to attend the hearing Wednesday at 9 a.m. in the county meeting room beside the Jefferson County Courthouse.

"It is not mandatory that you attend this meeting, but your show of support will help reduce the amount of opponents that will attend,'' Buchanan wrote. ''As you probably know, there are a few people in Jefferson County that are against our VLT (video lottery terminal) operation, and try to stop our growth at every opportunity."

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In the letter, Buchanan also suggests how workers should address members of the West Virginia Lottery Commission, who could decide after the hearing whether the track should get the additional slot machines.

"If you decide to attend the hearing, I ask that you show your support by telling the commission how your job depends on the expansion of our slot operation, and applaud when others do the same," Buchanan said.

Buchanan could not be reached for comment Friday.

Bill Bork Jr., director of marketing at the track, would not comment on the letter.

If the lottery commission believes there is not room enough for track workers and opponents at the hearing, it should reschedule the hearing or find a bigger room, Withem said.

John Melton, legal counsel for the lottery commission, assured opponents that the hearing will be "very orderly" and everyone who wants to speak will have an opportunity. The meeting room seats about 70 people.

When asked what he thought about Buchanan's letter, Melton said "I doubt I would have said something like that."

The track wants to increase the number of its slot and video lottery machines from 935 to 1,435 in an attempt to match profits enjoyed by tracks like those in Delaware.

There has been concern that expanded gambling at the track will harm the community.

"It just keeps growing, growing and growing. And my question is, where is it going to stop?" said Withem, who added that state officials do not have the "backbone" to say no to the track.

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