W.Va. Lottery Commission mulls limiting slots

August 28, 2000

W.Va. Lottery Commission mulls limiting slots

By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The chairman of the West Virginia Lottery Commission said he expects the commission eventually to consider limiting the number of slot machines and video lottery machines at the state's four race tracks, including Charles Town Races.

Lottery Commission chairman Virgil Thompson said Monday he does not have any concerns how video lottery machines and slot machines have expanded at racetracks. But when people begin expressing concern about how many slot machines will be allowed in the state, it's an issue the commission tends to look at, he said.

"It's just like anything else in life. Too much of something is not good," Thompson said in a telephone interview.

At a public hearing last Friday to consider Charles Town's request to expand from 1,500 to 2000 machines, state Del. John Overington, R-Berkeley, said he was concerned about continuing requests to add slot machines.


The thoroughbred track started with 400 video lottery machines after voters decided to allow the track to have the games in 1996. Shortly after installing the 400 machines, the track expanded to 1,000 machines.

Last September, the track received permission to expand to 1,500 machines, and now it wants to expand to 2,000 machines, which would be the most at any of the state's racetracks.

When the Legislature approved video lottery, lawmakers were under the impression the number of the machines allowed at racetracks would be limited, Overington told the Lottery Commission last Friday.

"I don't think any of us had any idea we would be going to 1,000 and 2,000 machines," Overington said.

Thompson told Overington during the hearing that the commission would address the issue.

Thompson said Monday he assumes the market will determine how many machines there should be at the tracks. The commission could consider a limit just short of that, Thompson said.

Thompson said he is not sure when the commission might begin considering a possible limit.

Ted Schieffer, director of gaming operations at the track, said he would be concerned about any limit the Lottery Commission would place on video lottery and slot machines.

Schieffer said the track gives careful thought to any request to increase the number of machines it has. Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns the track, is a publicly traded company and the track must make sure the business decisions it makes are in the best interests of shareholders, Schieffer said.

"We're not going to go out and add games just to add games. Right now, the 500 (additional) games makes sense," Schieffer said.

Last September, the track asked the Lottery Commission for permission to expand from 1,000 to 1,500 machines because there were not enough machines for everyone who wanted to play.

Despite the expansion, the track still doesn't have enough machines, Schieffer said. He said there are still lines of people waiting to play the machines on the weekends.

Martinsburg attorney Laura Rose, who is running against Overington in the Nov. 7 general election, said whether to limit slot machines at the track is an issue that residents in Jefferson County need to have a say in.

Rose said if she were approached as a lawmaker about whether slot machines should be limited in the state, she would have to base her decision on what people in the county want, "not what my belief would be."

Thompson said the Lottery Commission has the authority to limit slot machines.

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