Delegates blame bad timing for demise of table games bill

April 08, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A proposed law that would have allowed casino-style gambling at Charles Town Races & Slots and three other racetracks in the state was declared dead Thursday in the West Virginia Legislature, and a local lawmaker said the proposal failed for a host of reasons.

Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said one area that caused concerns among lawmakers was how local residents would be able to vote on casino-style table games.

Although the bill would have allowed Jefferson County residents a vote on whether to allow table games at Charles Town Races & Slots, it would have prevented residents from ever voting on the matter again, Doyle said.


Another reason Doyle said he thinks the bill was defeated is because the Legislature is "somewhat more conservative" than the Legislature that legalized slot machines for the state's four racetracks in 1994.

Finally, Doyle said he thinks the bill failed because supporters of table games made erroneous presumptions about how to get undecided lawmakers to support the games.

House Speaker Bob Kiss, who declared the bill dead Thursday, pulled Senate Bill 442 from his Judiciary Committee's agenda so the committee could focus instead on other major bills before this year's 60-day session ends at midnight Saturday, including Gov. Joe Manchin's insurance-related and prescription drug proposals.

"The bill which could legalize table games at the state's four racetracks will require, if considered fairly, many hours of debate, creating too much time, conflict and pressure that will hinder work on many other, very important pieces of legislation," said Kiss, D-Raleigh.

The Senate has already passed the measure, and Kiss suggested the issue could be reconsidered during a special legislative session.

Doyle said he thinks supporters of table games will have to draft a completely different bill in order for the issue to get serious consideration in a special session.

Some Jefferson County residents supported table games for the local thoroughbred track.

Some residents told The Herald-Mail previously the games should be allowed as long as community gets a reasonable share of the revenues, that the games would bring an "elite crowd" to the track and that the games would help the state stay competitive with gambling operations in other states.

The four tracks currently operate video lottery machines, which provide a major source of income and tax revenue for the state. The machines generated $371 million for the state last year, and accounted for 72 percent of the state lottery's revenue.

John Cavacini, president of the state Racing Association, said the tracks waited too long by not having Senate Bill 442 introduced until three weeks into the Legislature's 60-day session.

"That was our fault," Cavacini said.

Though the session began Feb. 9, Manchin did not present the bulk of his bills until early March. The tracks unveiled their legislation March 3, the same week that 12 of Manchin's 25 bills debuted.

"This bill got caught up in the logjam of bills, in both houses," Cavacini said.

"We happened to get caught behind some of the most complex and contentious issues this session," he said.

A leading critic of the table games proposal agreed with Cavacini's assessment, at least in part.

"There was the crowded agenda," said the Rev. Dennis Sparks, executive director of the West Virginia Council of Churches.

"But I think the hearing on Friday that (the House Judiciary Committee) sponsored turned some people around," Sparks said. "There were people there that told personal stories about how (gambling) affects their families and their lives. We've never really had the real stories told."

Cavacini also believes that his cause lost momentum in recent weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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