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'Table games' discussion headed in right direction

June 22, 2006

Congratulations to the West Virginia officials who are sticking to their guns and insisting that any expansion of gambling in the state be subject to referendum. Residents who will have gambling in their midst need the power to say whether it is a benefit or a detriment to the area.

The subject of adding so-called "table games" at the state's horse tracks was raised again this week when an officials of Penn National, which owns Charles Town Races & Slots, spoke to local officials.

John Finamore, senior vice president of regional operations for Penn National Gaming Inc., told members of the Jefferson County (W.Va.) Commission that if the new games were approved, another $200 million in improvements would be made there.

Finamore said plans include a 500-room hotel and 25,000 square feet of conference meeting space.

Under a proposal discussed Monday, Jefferson County voters would be allowed to vote on the games before they were installed, then again after five years.

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These seem like good safeguards, at least when it comes to protecting citizens' right to determine what happens in their own communities.

Our other concern, however, is how the addition of table games - roulette, blackjack and the like - would affect that percentage of the population that is in danger of becoming gambling addicts.

Research used by the Rhode Island Hospital, which has its own gambling-addiction treatment program, suggests that while games that use video displays are the most addictive because of the speed with which they can be operated, there are other factors.

In a study of compulsive gambling published in 2002 in the Journal of Gambling Studies, Bob Breen and M. Zimmerman state that video gamblers can become addicts in a year, while it takes three-and-half-years to become addicted to betting on horses, blackjack, etc.

However, there is a physical limit to how much a player can push into a video slot machine., although it can add up quickly.

What concerns us are the limits that will be placed on other games and any safeguards that Penn National plans.

For players' protection, we suggest that there be a nightly limit on losses and that after five nights of losing the maximum, management should consider red-flagging the player.

That would be a drag on revenues, but it seems a small price to pay to protect the community from those whose addictions have gotten out of control.

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