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Track plans for more parking slots

November 15, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Now that Charles Town Races & Slots has its maximum allowable 3,500 slot machines in place, future plans will shift to increasing parking and naming a non-themed gaming area, said John Finamore, vice president of regional operations.

Although it is not included in the track's next master plan phase, building a hotel is something else track officials would like to do, Finamore said.

Finamore and others spoke to a large group of local business leaders, elected officials and prominent citizens Friday afternoon at the track. Officially, the purpose of the meeting was to cut the ribbon for the track's newest area of slots, which opened to the public in July.

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Because the track's 4,000 parking spaces sometimes are filled on Saturdays, Charles Town Races & Slots President Jim Buchanan said the track hopes to add another 1,000 spaces.

Buchanan outlined the progress made at the track in the last five years. Horses now are raced on 256 days, up from 210. The average employee's wage has increased from $7 an hour to around $12 an hour, including benefits, Buchanan said.

As of June 30, $250 million has been handed over to the state and $9.5 million has been forwarded to Jefferson County, Buchanan said.

On Saturdays the track's 1,300 employees, most of whom live in Jefferson or Berkeley counties, sometimes serve as many as 25,000 visitors, most of whom come from surrounding states, he said.

Should Maryland or Pennsylvania legalize slot machines, Charles Town could gain a competitive advantage by installing table games, such as blackjack, Finamore said.

A debate is under way in West Virginia on whether such games should be permitted. Should they be allowed, Charles Town's decision on whether to install them would probably depend on neighboring states' plans, Finamore said.

Also, track personnel may consider adding more slot machines. To do so, a request would have to be sent to the state's Lottery Commission.

Jane Tabb, a farmer who is president of the Jefferson County Commission, addressed the crowd during a banquet after the ribbon-cutting.

When Penn National Gaming Inc. bought the track, it was on the verge of closing. Nobody knew whether it could be saved, she said.

"Penn National has fulfilled all its promises to the community and the horsemen," she said.

The county's share of video lottery machine revenue makes up 21 percent of its budget, which eases the burden on taxpayers, she said.

Horse racing also helps the local agricultural community since it requires hay and straw. The track provides work for farriers, veterinarians, horse dentists, stall muckers and others, she said.

Tabb commended the track for its charitable donations. At the end of Friday's banquet, track officials handed over $50,000 to six local organizations. They presented $20,000 to Jefferson County United Way; $10,000 to CASA, or Court-Appointed Special Advocates, an organization which matches a trained volunteer with neglected children removed from their homes; and $5,000 each to Jefferson County Animal Welfare Society, Hospice of the Eastern Panhandle, Children's First Child Development Center and a county chaplain program.

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