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Lawmakers say residents might vote down table games

February 14, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Two Jefferson County lawmakers said Tuesday they think county residents might vote down a proposal to allow casino table games at Charles Town Races & Slots if there is no money set aside from table game revenues for local schools.

The possibility of giving local schools a share of table game revenue has been one of the issues being discussed as the Legislature prepares to consider allowing the local track and three others in the state to have casino games such as blackjack, roulette and craps.

But Del. Bob Tabb said it has been a tough proposal to push in Charleston, W.Va., and he believes it might convince Jefferson County residents to vote against table games if no provision for local school funding is included in the bill.

Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, agreed.

Doyle said he tried to set aside table game funding for Jefferson County Schools in the House finance committee, but received no support.

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The Legislature is considering a table games bill that would allow residents in the four counties with tracks to vote the games up or down.

A track official criticized Tabb's prediction that a table games proposal could struggle at the hands of Jefferson County voters, and said that should not be Tabb's area of concern.

"The delegate does not need to worry whether it will pass or not," said John Finamore, senior vice president of regional operations for Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns the local thoroughbred track.

Finamore emphasized that the bill has been passed "as is" in two House committees, and provides $10 million for horsemen's purses, horse breeders and "a lot of money" for local government.

Jefferson County Commissioner Dale Manuel pushed for local schools to get a share of table game revenues to help schools deal with funding constraints. Finamore said previously that he would be willing to discuss the issue with Gov. Joe Manchin's staff.

Tabb, D-Jefferson, said he wanted to make an amendment to the table games bill that would give Jefferson County Schools a cut of the table games revenue. But Tabb said he was told there would be opposition to the amendment.

Tabb said he decided not to push the issue because he did not want to jeopardize other amendments he supported in the bill.

Tabb, however, said he might push for local school funding when the bill is debated on the House floor.

Tabb said the House of Delegates might vote on the table games bill by Friday.

A bill was considered in the Legislature last year to allow casino table games at the state's four racetracks, but it was criticized by lawmakers and other officials because it proposed to take away the rights of Jefferson County voters to control gaming at the track through elections.

Currently, Jefferson County voters have the ability to put the track's right to have slot machines on the ballot for an up or down vote.

According to the bill being considered in the Legislature, Jefferson County voters could put casino table games up for a vote after five years if they are initially approved by voters.

That would give the track time to recoup its investment in the games if they were turned down, Tabb said.

After the five-year period, voters would be able to call for gaming referendums like they currently do, officials said.

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