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Time running short for table games bill

February 15, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Lobbyists working to gain support for a controversial bill in the state Legislature that would allow Charles Town Races & Slots and three other racetracks in the state to have casino table games have been given more time to get support for the measure, local lawmakers said Tuesday.

Lobbyists pushing for passage of the bill have been given about 72 hours to round up votes for House Bill 4314, said Del. Locke Wysong, D-Jefferson.

Wysong said he does not believe the bill has enough votes in the House Judiciary Committee, where it needs to be approved before heading to the House Finance Committee.

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The bill has been criticized by some lawmakers and other officials because it takes away the rights of Jefferson County residents to control gaming through elections.

Jefferson County voters have the ability to put the track's right to have slot machines up for a vote, said Del. Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson.

Under the table games bill, county voters could never have a referendum again on slot machines or table games if they approved table games in a county election, Tabb said.

At a Jefferson County Commission meeting Thursday, a track official defended the bill's referendum language, saying the track needs to protect the improvements that have been made there. Other track supporters have said it is not fair for a business to invest in its operations with the possibility of voters taking away the business's operations.

In addition to concern over the referendum language, Wysong said he thinks another issue working against the table games bill is that lawmakers are resistant to support it in an election year.

House Speaker Bob Kiss, D-Raleigh, said last week that the bill would move within the next week or not at all. House Democratic leaders decided to continue debate on the bill after meeting with gambling lobbyists Monday evening, House Majority Leader Rick Staton, D-Wyoming, said.

"(Lobbyists) want some time to talk about making changes," he said.

He said some gambling lobbyists want to try to garner lawmakers' support by using the gambling revenue to eliminate the state's 5 percent food tax.

Eliminating the food tax is one of the Republicans' major issues. However, House Minority Leader Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said he does not believe many, if any, of the 32 GOP delegates would support expanding gambling at the racetracks to do so.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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