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Racetrack opens Slot City

October 28, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

At the grand opening of Slot City in Charles Town on Friday, red, white and blue balloons were everywhere, gold coins dropped, white flashbulbs popped and slot machines flashed every color in the rainbow.

It was a symphony of sound and colors, but Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, mentioned just one - green.

"I would rather use (gamblers') desire to gamble to put people to work and keep our county rural," Doyle said. "We're keeping our county green in two ways."

Slot City, the newest addition to Charles Town Races & Slots, has 500 machines in an area with a small town Main Street theme. There are facades of a movie theater, bar and hotel, as well as bill-changing machines, food stands and a souvenir shop.

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Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns the track, has contributed more than $4 million to the county since 1997.

Gov. Bob Wise said the slots money equals opportunity.

"Ask senior citizens, ask veterans, ask students," he said, saying the money helps pay for education and economic improvements.

Wise said gambling is one part of the state's diversified economy, and that while more than 85 percent of the track's 1,100 employees are West Virginians, 85 percent of the revenue comes from out-of-state pockets.

Wise said he does not worry that part of the state's economy relies on gambling.

"The people coming here are going to go somewhere," he said.

People didn't always flock to Charles Town. When the track was in financial peril in 1995, it was offered for sale.

Penn National Gaming agreed to buy the financially ailing track if the county approved the installation of slot machines. A 220-slot facility opened on Sept. 10, 1997.

Today, more than 2,600 slots are present and track officials have state lottery commission approval to install 3,500 altogether.

Doyle said he supports the track because of the tax money it pumps into the county and its five municipalities, and because it offers jobs.

Doyle also said the perpetuation of horse racing helps keep the county more rural than zoning could. It keeps horse farms in business as well as grain farmers who can sell their products to horse owners, he said.

"I fear Jefferson County would be nothing but residential subdivisions" without the track, he said.

Although Wise mentioned education as a benefactor of the track, Jefferson County Board of Education President Lori Stilley said the company contributes little more than any other business.

Charles Town Races has made donations, she said. But unlike the County Commission, which receives 2 percent of the track's revenue, the school system does not receive even a small percentage.

Stilley said she'd like to see that change.

"Even 1 percent would do so much," she said.

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