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Before table game are OK'd, examine addiction studies

December 29, 2005

Once upon a time, not so long ago, the proponents of gambling in West Virginia didn't want to call the devices that patrons put their money into "slot machines."

Now operators of four racetrack casinos have thousands of machines they're not afraid to call "slots." They do, however, profess to be afraid of Pennsylvania's pending entry into the gambling business.

Their antidote? Up the ante, by offering "table games" such as poker, roulette and blackjack.

Before any such additions are approved, we would like to see some research on how such games affect the percentage of gambling addicts in the population.

It also would be interesting to know whether the addition of such games adds to the number of bankruptcies, lost jobs and divorces in a community.

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A calm look at any existing research is needed because track officials now say that without table games, hundreds of jobs could be lost.

Charles Town Races & Slots management said that it doesn't see cutting any jobs if table games legislation doesn't pass.

But John Finamore, senior vice president of regional operations for Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns Charles Town, said passage would definitely be a plus.

If table games were legalized, Finamore predicted that Penn National would invest up to $150 million in new facilities and create up to 700 new jobs.

Here's our concern: If West Virginia's gaming industry is reacting to Pennsylvania's legalization of slot-machine gambling by asking for table games, what happens when Pennsylvania adds them?

What will be the next step in the escalation of this competition? If it's offering more family-oriented entertainment, such as the fabulously successful Cirque Du Soleil shows that have changed Las Vegas, that's fine.

If it's something else - and we decline to speculate based on no knowledge of the possibilities - maybe it wouldn't be so good.

The bottom line: It is not unreasonable for gambling operators who are asking the state for the power to run additional games to tell lawmakers what they expect to be offering 10 years from now.

We don't know what those things might be, but we would bet the farm that those companies are already looking that far ahead.

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