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Bill would route slot proceeds to Jefferson schools

February 17, 2001

Bill would route slot proceeds to Jefferson schools



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer


CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - An effort is under way in the state Legislature to earmark up to $3 million from slot machine revenue at the Charles Town Races for construction of new schools in Jefferson County.

Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, has introduced a bill in the Senate that would set aside 10 percent of the slot machine revenue the thoroughbred track is required to give to the state lottery fund each year.

Last year, the track had to turn over $23.4 million to the lottery fund. This year, that figure is expected to climb to $32 million, Snyder said.

A similar bill is expected to be introduced in the House of Delegates.

Getting the school district the funding it needs for new schools has become the topic of an increased number of discussions lately following the district's failure to get money for school needs.

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In September, Jefferson County voters rejected a proposed $39 million bond that would have been used to build new schools.

In December, the state School Building Authority rejected a $20 million request from the Jefferson County Board of Education for new school construction.

Board of Education members have been concerned about the issue, in light of the projected 22,000 new students expected to arrive in neighboring Loudoun County, Va., in coming years. Jefferson High School, the county's only high school, is over capacity and showing signs of wear.

The House bill will be introduced by Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson and Del. Dale Manuel, D-Jefferson, Doyle said.

Although Doyle said he has not determined a percentage cut of slot machine revenue the school system will get in his bill, he wants it to generate at least $1 million.

Snyder's bill is being co-sponsored by another local senator who said at a public meeting last month that the state would be heading down a "slippery slope" if it starts looking at additional gambling proceeds to fund public education.

Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, who made the comment, also said the proposal would be unfair to counties that do not have racetracks.

In an interview last week, Unger said he was referring to any efforts to legalize video poker machines, which Gov. Bob Wise wants to tax and regulate to fund a college scholarship program.

"I didn't change my position on it. My feelings are still the same," said Unger.

Snyder said he believes Senate Bill 89 is attractive because it does not affect any slot machine revenues locally, which go to the Jefferson County Commissioners, cities in the county and programs related to the track such as thoroughbred development funds, pension funds and tourism funds, Snyder said. The 10 percent for schools would be taken from the amount that goes to the state lottery fund.

Jim Buchanan, president of the track, said he did not have a problem with the two proposals.

"Our opinion is, 'It's their business.' Anytime money goes to education, it's great, I think. That was the intention of the lottery money anyway," Buchanan said.

The reason many people rejected the school bond issue is because they thought the Board of Education is already getting money from the track's slot machines, said board member Pete Dougherty. In fact, the board gets hardly any benefit from the machines, he said.

All money from the slot machines go to the track; the only benefit the county gets is some equipment for a computer program that is funded with the gambling money, Dougherty said.

"If we're going to have gambling in the county, we should have the ability to benefit from it," Dougherty said.

Slot machines and video lottery have been extremely successful for the track. Last fiscal year, gamblers played $936 million in credits, leaving the track with $79 million in revenue.

Despite the positive comments in favor of the two legislative proposals, Doyle and Snyder said it could be difficult getting both bills to pass because finances are tight this year.

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