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Group to lobby for table games

November 30, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA.

charlestown@herald-mail.com

About a dozen Jefferson County business leaders and a local mayor boarded a bus Monday for Charleston, W.Va., to lobby for a casino table games bill that has been criticized by some lawmakers.

About 15 people, including Charles Town Mayor Peggy Smith; Paulette Sprinkle, executive director of the Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau; and Ronnie Marcus, president of the board of directors of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, departed from the Turf Motel along East Washington Street, Sprinkle and Marcus said.

Ranson Mayor David Hamill, Ranson City Manager David Mills and Chuck Ellison, president of the board of directors for the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, were also expected to travel with the group, Marcus said.

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Marcus said the group is lobbying for the casino table games bill to support and protect the economic boom which Charles Town Races & Slots has enjoyed.

Marcus said group members plan to meet with House and Senate members today.

Eric Schippers, spokesman for Charles Town Races & Slots, said last week that the track supports the table games bill as a way to stay ahead of gambling competition from nearby states.

"We're enjoying the good life. We want to protect it and keep it," said Marcus, who also emphasized the $27 million in slot machine revenue that has been allocated to local government.

"We have to protect our business," said Marcus, who is also traveling to Charleston to represent his business, the Turf Motel, which is next to the track.

Del. Bob Tabb, who criticized the casino table games bill last week, remained critical of the proposal Monday night.

Tabb said that he has not received one phone call from anyone who wants him to support the bill. Tabb said he thinks the group that went to Charleston to lobby for the bill was asked to do so on the track's behalf.

Tabb said that he thinks no one in the group has read the bill or understands what is in it.

Tabb said last week that the bill ? which would allow Charles Town Races & Slots and three other tracks in the state to have table games ? was a bad proposal because it takes away the right of Jefferson County residents to control gaming through elections.

Currently, Jefferson County voters have the ability to put the track's right to have slot machines on the ballot for an up or down vote, said Tabb, D-Jefferson.

Under the table games bill, county voters could never have a referendum again on slot machines or table games if they approved table games in a county election, Tabb said.

Tabb said it is important for county voters to always have the option of calling for a referendum on gaming at the track in case an attempt is launched to eliminate horse racing at the track.

Tabb said it is important for residents to be able to protect horse racing because the industry is strong now in Jefferson County.

Marcus said he supports the bill's language that allows only for one referendum on gaming at the track.

He said he also believes there should be a mechanism in place to protect horse racing. Marcus said there are some lobbyists who are working on a provision to protect horse racing.

Marcus said he supports only one vote on gaming at the track because he believes it is unfair for a business to face the prospect of possibly having its livelihood taken away, especially after it invests millions of dollars into its operation.

"There has to be give and take here," Marcus said.

Sprinkle rattled off statistics Monday about the benefits of having casino table games. Gambling revenues in the state would increase by $160 million with table games and the games would generate another 2,000 jobs at the state's tracks, Sprinkle said.

"It's a real economic impact when you think about it," Sprinkle said.

Not only does the bill remove referendum rights for voters, it is hard to understand, Tabb said Monday, adding that local lawmakers have been reading the bill over and over in an attempt to decipher it.

"The only thing we've been able to figure out is it's bad legislation," Tabb said.

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