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Charles Town wants 500 more slot machines

August 01, 2000

Charles Town wants 500 more slot machines



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Charles Town Races is seeking state Lottery Commission permission to add 500 video slot machines at the track.

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Permission would increase the number of machines at the track from 1,500 to 2,000.

Last September the track asked for and received permission to add 500 video slot machines.

Despite that expansion, it's not unusual on weekends for lines of people to be waiting for machines to open up, Ted Schieffer, director of gaming operations at the track, said Tuesday night.

On holidays, people are "wall-to-wall," Schieffer said.

On Monday, the Lottery Commission gave Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort permission to add 550 video lottery machines. That will give it 1,905 machines, the most among the state's four horse and dog tracks.

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Charles Town could surpass that if the Lottery Commission approves the local thoroughbred track's request next month.

Schieffer said the Lottery Commission will hold a public hearing on the request next month in the Jefferson County meeting room on Washington Street. He was not sure of the date.

When the Lottery Commission heard the track's expansion request last September, a standing-room only crowd showed up.

Proponents and opponents of the machines testified for about two hours before the Lottery Commission voted unanimously to allow the additional machines.

Opponents at that time said they feared Jefferson County would be headed down a dangerous road if the track were allowed to expand its gambling operations.

Track supporters asked those in attendance to remember the bleak times the track faced before slot machines were allowed.

The 500 machines approved last September are in a tent outside the main entrance to the track. They are to be moved into a new gaming area being constructed where the indoor paddock used to be.

That expansion should be completed by October, Schieffer said.

When those machines are moved into the expanded area, the track could put the additional 500 machines requested in the tent, he said.

Another expansion could be undertaken to house the additional 500 machines, but Schieffer said he could not elaborate.

The track has considered building a hotel and parking garage on the property.

The track's decision to seek another 500 video slot machines was met with mixed reaction.

Dick Watson, president of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said horsemen are happy over the improved purses they have enjoyed since the track went to 1,500 machines. Watson said he believes the excitement over the machines has also led to higher attendance and wagering for horse racing.

"We bet over $1 million dollars Saturday night, which isn't too shabby," Watson said.

Jefferson County Commissioner Dean Hockensmith said Charles Town's success has "been nothing but good."

The track has generated an estimated $57.3 million since 1988. The county's share of profits has been estimated at about $2.3 million. It has been used to fund paid ambulance service, upgrade 911 service and pay for improvements at local parks.

"It's look's like to me it's a nice clean industry," Hockensmith said.

County Commissioner Edgar Ridgeway, who has opposed the machines, said he was not surprised the track wants more of the slots. "That's what the people wanted, so that's what the people get," Ridgeway said.

Jefferson County voters in 1996 approved the track's request to have the machines.

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