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Teacher's pay leads discussion on games

May 25, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Whether or not casino table games are good for Jefferson County has not been a clear issue in the run up to the June 9 referendum on the games and the subject continued to be a source of debate during a forum Thursday night.

Although casino table games are projected to funnel an estimated $1.5 million annually to Jefferson County Schools, concern was raised during the forum at the Charles Town Library whether the school system will have oversight in the collection of money that is to go to the school system.

The discussion also centered around the long-standing problem of low teacher salaries in the county and one Charles Town resident suggested table games was a way to force the state's hand the issue.

Rosella Kern suggested during the forum sponsored by the Jefferson County Democratic Association that county residents not pass casino table games until the state passes so-called locality pay for teachers.

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Locality pay is higher pay for teachers in rapidly growing areas like the Eastern Panhandle where the cost of living is higher.

Track owners say they need casino table games to stay competitive with gambling in other states. Residents will decide whether to allow table games like blackjack and roulette at the track during a June 9 county referendum, although early voting has been under way since May 18 at the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Thursday night's event was the second public forum on casino table games. The first forum was held at Shepherd University May 17 and attracted more than 100 people.

About 45 people attended Thursday's forum.

As in the first forum, Del. John Doyle was one of two panelists speaking against the games. Like he has argued in the past, Doyle said Jefferson County will not get a fair share of revenue from casino table games and he said the young, single males who will predominantly be attracted to the track for the games are "the most rambunctious demographic."

Jefferson County Board of Education member Scott Sudduth spoke in favor of the games, saying the estimated $1.5 million the school system would receive annually from the games could be used to pay for school improvements like new heating and air conditioning, playground equipment, library collections and "first class" science labs.

Doyle has suggested that county residents say no to table games in hopes of getting a better deal from the state.

Proponents of the games questioned whether a better deal would come, and Commissioner Jim Surkamp, who was at Thursday's forum, said Doyle does not have the power to make change.

"This is as good a deal as we're going to get," Sudduth said.

Sudduth said there has been frustration that not more slot machine revenue from the track would go to education. The casino table games law passed in the Legislature explicitly states that 3 percent of the track's gross table game receipts will go to Jefferson County Schools.

"I think Charleston has given us an opportunity to help ourselves," Sudduth said.

Linda Hoffman, spokeswoman for the VoteNoTableGames coalition, said she used to live in Atlantic City, N.J., and she talked about how businesses were consumed by that city's table game industry.

The number of independently-owned restaurants went from 48 to 16 after table games came in and a third of Atlantic City's retail businesses closed, said Hoffman.

The debate became heated at times as Surkamp and Doyle argued over how much local governments receive in slot machine money.

Surkamp spoke in support of the track's support of local government, saying the money from slot machines has paid for a renovation of the old Jefferson County Jail, a new county community center and a new sheriff's department.

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