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Table games spark debate

June 03, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA.-Mike Withem, one of a group of local ministers who oppose casino table games in Jefferson County, gets angry when he looks back at the growth in gambling at Charles Town Races & Slots.

Withem, pastor of First Baptist Church in Ranson, W.Va., said that when Penn National Gaming Inc. officials were attempting to buy the racetrack, they said there would not be a casino at the track if they were able to purchase it.

Now, Withem said, Penn National Gaming Inc. officials have gone back on their word with their attempt to bring games such as blackjack and roulette to the racetrack.

John Finamore, on the other hand, gets as pumped up as casino opponents when he hears arguments against allowing casino gambling at the racetrack.

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Finamore, senior vice president of regional operations for Penn National Gaming Inc., owner of Charles Town Races & Slots, largely has been the point man as racetrack officials worked with the Jefferson County Commission to set a June 9 referendum on casino table games in Jefferson County.

As for Withem's comment that Penn National Gaming Inc. officials promised that the local racetrack never would be a casino, Finamore said he was not in the Charles Town area when the statement was made.

According to a story in The Morning Herald on March 27, 1996, the owners of Penn National Race Course, at a meeting with the Jefferson County Commission, guaranteed two things if they were to buy the racetrack - the current management would go and there would not be a casino.

Finamore said, however, that the racetrack's competition has changed since 1996. For instance, Pennsylvania has followed West Virginia's lead and now allows slot machines.

Racetrack officials in West Virginia say they want casino table games in order to remain competitive with gambling operations in other states. If Jefferson County voters allow table games at Charles Town Races & Slots on Saturday, the games would be added to the 5,100 slot machines at the racetrack.

Winners and losers

Ray Love, pastor of Tri-State Baptist Church in Charles Town, classified casino table games as a "lost base industry," a term he defined as meaning that for someone to make money from the games, someone must lose.

Finamore said anyone who believes that does not understand table games and noted that he never has heard of the term "lost base industry."

"That's some kind of made-up hocus-pocus," Finamore said, noting that the house - in this case, the Jefferson County racetrack - loses money when players win.

A blackjack or roulette player might buy $100 worth of chips for an afternoon at a table, and if that person wins, it is the house - the racetrack - that loses money, Finamore said. There could be five or six people playing at the same table, and the racetrack would lose money if it were a winning afternoon for all of them, Finamore said.

Casino games generally provide a predictable long-term advantage to the casino, or "house," while offering players the possibility of a large short-term payout, according to Wikipedia.com and other Web sites that describe what is known as the "house edge."

In most cases, Wikipedia says, it is not mathematically possible for a player to eliminate the inherent long-term disadvantage.

Back and forth

John Bethard, minister at Charles Town Presbyterian Church, said he believes most ministers in the county oppose table games.

They are, he said, concerned that allowing table games at the racetrack would attract a different type of gambler, such as "high rollers," and that could lead to an increase in crime.

Finamore said he is troubled by comments that casino games would attract high rollers. The term seems to imply that unsavory people would be attracted to the racetrack when table game players are similar to people who play slot machines, although they might be younger, Finamore said.

Finamore said the racetrack has extensive surveillance systems to control problems, and people who have tried to trick slot machines have been prosecuted, sending the message that racetrack officials will not tolerate criminal behavior.

"The bad guys know that," Finamore said. "They don't come here."

Some local police have said there have been no significant crime problems since slot machines started operating at the racetrack.

The Rev. Wyman Hall, pastor of Charles Town Baptist Church, said he thinks someone should take a closer look to determine if there have been social costs - such as some players suffering from bad credit - associated with increased gambling at the racetrack.

Track officials have said table games will result in more jobs at the racetrack, but the county's unemployment rate is so low, it has left some employers struggling to find good workers, Hall said.

The county's cut

Del. John Doyle also opposes the games.

Doyle, D-Jefferson, rattled off reasons he thinks county residents should turn down the games. His top reason is that he does not believe the county gets a fair share of gambling proceeds.

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