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Table games bill hits bump

Senate panel's version of bill loses support of delegates

Senate panel's version of bill loses support of delegates

February 28, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A state Senate committee's version of a bill that would allow Charles Town Races & Slots to ask Jefferson County residents for permission to add poker and other casino games has lost support among the only House delegates who voted for it last week.

"It is totally unacceptable right now," said Del. Locke Wysong, D-Jefferson, of the changes made to House Bill 2718 on Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Wysong stopped short of saying he would vote against the bill, but fellow Jefferson County Del. John Doyle said Tuesday he would vote against the amended version of the bill if it returns to the chamber. Doyle, D-Jefferson, and Wysong were the only delegates in the Eastern Panhandle to vote for the bill, which cleared the House of Delegates 53-40 on Feb. 16.

Senate Judiciary Committee member John Yoder, R-Jefferson, said he voted against the changes, but voted for the bill to advance and hoped that the Senate Finance Committee would amend it again.

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Yoder confirmed the amended bill proposes to pool the local governments' share of table game money generated at Charles Town with the state's other three tracks and then distribute it. Currently, the local share of slots revenue generated at Charles Town Races & Slots only is split among Jefferson County and the county's five municipalities.

"Basically, it is socialism for the other racetracks," said Yoder, noting the other tracks do not generate as much money. "We're kind of hoping it's changed in Finance."

While being interviewed Tuesday, Finance Committee member John Unger confirmed with Finance Committee chairman Walt Helmick that the bill would be up for the panel's consideration Thursday.

"It probably has the votes to pass," Unger said. "But it probably will be a lot closer than anywhere else."

"I've been against the expansion of gaming - that's not going to change," Unger said.

Though it might pass the committee, Unger said he would try to make the bill as palatable to the Eastern Panhandle as possible and specifically mentioned his intention to protect the interests of horsemen who compete at Charles Town's racetrack.

As the only Jefferson County lawmaker to vote against the table games bill, Del. Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson, said the Senate Judiciary Committee's changes would cut the purse fund allocation for horse races from 6 percent to 2 percent and divert 5 percent more of the table games revenue to nonracetrack counties and municipalities.

"With what they did in the Senate, it went from bad to worse," said Tabb, who was unsuccessful in attempts to allocate money for education.

In the amended form, Tabb also doubted whether county residents would give the racetrack permission to add table games in a special election.

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