Jefferson County schools see dollar signs if table games approved

May 03, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Jefferson County Schools is expected to receive about $1.5 million annually from table games if they are approved, but the school system will eventually rake in another $3 million a year from an increase in the track's property tax bill if the games are approved, Charles Town Races & Slots officials said Wednesday.

John Finamore, senior vice president of regional operations for Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns Charles Town Races & Slots, said the school system would benefit from an increase in the track's tax bill because of $200 million in improvements that are planned for the track as part of table games.

The school system receives a majority of the funding from property tax bills.

Board of Education member Alan Sturm questioned whether the school system would receive the entire $3 million.

Sturm said he wanted to know how much of the $3 million would be school excess levy money and whether any of the money would be a state share that would not necessarily come back to Jefferson County, Sturm said.


"That's a little misleading," Sturm said of Finamore's statement.

Finamore said he was told that the entire $3 million would go to schools, but added he would check again to make sure.

The $1.5 million that would go to the school system was spelled out in table games legislation that was recently approved by the Legislature.

The law stated that Jefferson County Schools will receive about 3 percent of the track's gross table game revenue.

There was a push to get the school system a share of potential revenue from table games if they are allowed at Charles Town Races & Slots, and some local officials felt county voters might vote against allowing table games at the track if no funds were set aside for education.

Superintendent of Schools R. Steven Nichols and board of education members talked about the benefits of table game revenue for the school system.

Although the table game revenue must be used for new school construction, it can free up other money that can be used for teacher salaries, Nichols said.

Board members said the money would also lessen the board's need to go to voters for tax increases to build new schools.

"This is a start where we can make some definite in-roads," said Board of Education member Gary Kable.

"We have an opportunity to benefit ourselves and I think we need to take advantage of that," said local resident Walter Pellish, one of a handful of people who spoke at the meeting at the board of education office.

Tracks in the state have said they wanted to have table games like blackjack and roulette to remain competitive with gambling operations in other states. If Jefferson County voters approve table games at Charles Town Races & Slots on June 9, the games would be added to 5,100 slot machines at the track.

Finamore said a 30,000-square-foot "shell" has already been built at the track to accommodate table games if voters approve them.

It would take six to eight months to get the games running if voters approved them, and it is projected the games could be offered to the public in February next year, Finamore said.

Some residents expressed concern at the meeting about how the games might impact the community.

Two women who spoke said they are worried about increased traffic congestion if the games are allowed.

Suzette Craun of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., said she worries about more people who will be heading into town from the east on U.S. 340.

Craun said traffic in the area has increased since the track started expanding and added that it can take 15 minutes to turn from Chestnut Hill Road onto U.S. 340 in the Harpers Ferry area.

"It has increased our traffic 10-fold," Craun said.

Other speakers raised concerns about possible increases in alcohol consumption and crime if the games are allowed.

The Herald-Mail Articles