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Table games debated

May 18, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - More than 100 people turned out Wednesday night at a public forum at Shepherd University to hear supporters and opponents of casino table games put forth their best arguments for their stances on the games.

Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, joined local pastor Douglas Fraim in an argument against the games as the two talked about the "paltry" deal the county will get out of the games and the threat of crime problems like prostitution.

Table games supporters Walter Pellish and Alan Sturm emphasized the millions of dollars in revenue that county schools will enjoy if the games are introduced, and the good jobs at the track that would be created.

The forum was in the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies auditorium.

The crowd for the forum was so large that it spilled out the door and other people who could not get in listened to an audio feed of the debate in a room across the hall.

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Jefferson County voters will decide June 9 whether to allow casino table games like blackjack and roulette at Charles Town Races & Slots. Early voting begins today at the Jefferson County Courthouse in downtown Charles Town.

Doyle has criticized the 3 percent share of table game revenue proposed for Jefferson County Schools as too low and he continued his attack Wednesday, calling the plan "lousy."

Doyle said he also is worried about the track becoming a "glitzy" entertainment district and said the games will generate too much traffic congestion.

Fraim said casino table games "create more problems than it solves." Single males are said to be some of the biggest fans of table games and Fraim said he is worried about more strip clubs and prostitution if the games are approved.

Fraim made reference to hotel accommodations that track owners hope to make available and said "we're going to have some room service we don't want."

Fraim also criticized society for allowing gambling to spread.

"Where did our morals and ethics go?" asked Fraim, pastor of Bolivar United Methodist Church.

Jefferson County Schools is expected to receive about $1.5 million annually from table games if they are approved, and Sturm said the money is vital to helping the growing school system meet its needs. Sturm is a Jefferson County Board of Education member, although he said he was not representing the board Wednesday night.

Sturm rattled off millions of dollars needed to help schools pay for repairs like roof projects and heating and air conditioning systems.

Sturm said traffic congestion should not be a part of the debate because the highway needs of the region is a separate issue. If the county was courting a large auto plant, some people would be raising the same traffic concerns, Sturm said.

"Any way we go, we need help with traffic," Sturm said.

Doyle, Fraim, Pellish and Sturm were able to make statements supporting their sides at the beginning of the forum. The four panelists then were allowed to ask questions of each other.

That's when things started to get pointed.

Pellish, co-chair of the YES Coalition in support of the games, asked Doyle why he is against table games when he voted for the table games bill in the recent session of the Legislature.

"I don't know how you can go both ways on this," Pellish told Doyle

Doyle said he was open about his opposition to the games when he talked about the issue on the floor of the House of Delegates. At that time, Doyle said he would "take his case to the people" when the issue came up in Jefferson County.

Pellish talked about how the casino table games could help build a quality education system in the county. To make his case, he presented a scenario where a man suffering from a stroke calls an emergency medical technician for help.

In the scenario, the quality of help from the EMT depended on whether county voters approved table games and funneled more money to schools.

The remark brought some cynical sighs from people in the back of the room.

"What a stretch," one man said of Pellish's reasoning.

Many people in the audience wore yellow T-shirts that said "Jefferson County Table Game Revenues and Jobs Referendum" on them.

The T-shirts were part of the track's campaign for the games, said track spokesman Roger Ramey, who attended the forum.

Earlier in the day, during a Jefferson County Commission meeting, Commission President Frances Morgan said residents have told her they do not believe enough information is getting out about the games.

Instead of the commission holding any forums, the commissioners agreed to ask organizations like the Jefferson County League of Women Voters or the NAACP to hold some forums.

"It's getting late. The public is making up their minds rapidly on this subject," Commissioner Rusty Morgan said.

The forum was sponsored by The (Martinsburg) Journal and WEPM radio.




Table games arguments



The pros

Supporters of the games say passage of the games on June 9 in Jefferson County is important because it will mean millions of dollars in new revenue for county schools, will create new jobs in the county and keep the track ahead of gambling competition in nearby states.

The cons

Opponents of casino table games have started to make their cases against the games in recent weeks. They worry about increased crime, such as prostitution, and say the local community is not getting a fair share of profits from the games.

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