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Track official says referendum date might come soon

March 30, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - A Charles Town Races & Slots official told county authorities Thursday that track owners have not picked a date for a referendum in Jefferson County on whether to allow casino table games at the track, but the issue will probably be addressed "soon."

Mountaineer Racetrack & Gaming Resort in Chester, W.Va., Wheeling Island Racetrack and Gaming Center in Wheeling, W.Va., and Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center in Nitro, W.Va., have set a date of June 9 in their respective counties to have a local referendum on whether to allow casino table games.

John Finamore, Senior Vice President of Regional Operations for Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns Charles Town Races & Slots, told the Jefferson County Commissioners Thursday morning that the commission should not "read anything" into the fact that the track has not picked a date to have a referendum on table games in Jefferson County.

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Finamore appeared before the commissioners to go over details of a recently passed bill in the Legislature that allows racetrack counties to have the table games.

"We are just doing our due diligence and making sure we understand the issues. I'm sure we will be talking to you very soon," Finamore said.

Finamore said after the meeting that he thinks track owners will be going back to the commissioners in a couple of weeks to talk about an election date.

It is too early to say when the track might want the election, Finamore said.

"There's all kinds of issues with people's vacations ... the weather ..." Finamore said.

Finamore told the commissioners that the track would pay for the referendum if a special election is held.

Tracks in the state have said they wanted to have table games to remain competitive with gambling operations in other states. If Jefferson County voters allow table games at Charles Town Races & Slots, the games would be added to about 4,200 slot machines.

Finamore appeared before the commissioners to detail why he thinks the table games bill is a good deal for the county.

If table games are allowed at the track, the state Lottery Commission is projecting that the new gambling attraction is expected to increase slot machine revenue by 10 percent at Charles Town, Finamore said.

Jefferson County government and the county's five towns are expected to enjoy about $8 million a year in slot machine revenue this year from the track, and the addition of table games at the track would increase that revenue stream by about $850,000 a year, according to Lottery Commission projections.

The track would probably start with 75 gaming tables, which would generate about 500 more jobs at the track, which currently employs 1,300, Finamore said.

Current track employees would be given the first opportunity to apply for table games jobs and the track would set up a "dealers school" to train workers to run the games, Finamore said.

Additional table game operations "all depends on how the market absorbs the product," Finamore said.

Finamore said Penn National Gaming has hired a firm to conduct lengthy telephone polls with county residents asking them about how they feel about table games. The results of the polls have been encouraging, Finamore said.

There has been some discontent in how revenue from table games would be split among horsemen.

Commissioner Rusty Morgan asked Finamore whether any changes can be made in that distribution process.

Finamore said he does not think any changes can be made in the legislation, now that it has been approved.

"It is what it is," Finamore said.

Under the table games law, 2.5 percent of the table games gross revenue will go to horsemen. Under the table games law, the horsemen's share of the revenue from Charles Town and Mountaineer Race Track and Resort will go into a pool and be distributed evenly to horsemen in Jefferson and Hancock counties, Finamore said.

Horsemen in Jefferson County are not happy with the funding distribution because they are expected to receive $1.3 million. If local horsemen would have received 2.5 percent of gross table game revenue from Charles Town Races & Slots, their revenue would be about $500,000 more, Finamore said.

Finamore said the table games law has the recall capabilities that county officials wanted.

Under the law, county residents have the right to ask for an election to recall table games after the games have been in place at the track for five years.

County residents already have that capability with slot machines, Finamore said.

Rusty Morgan asked Finamore if the same safeguards would be in place if another company purchased the track and Finamore said they would remain in effect.

"I think residents have the hammer," Finamore said.

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