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Jefferson Co. rejects table gaming

June 10, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA.-Voters in Jefferson County rejected Charles Town Races & Slots' proposal to add table games such as poker, roulette and blackjack to the racetrack, according to complete, but unofficial results.

With all 30 precincts tallied, about 56 percent of voters were against the proposal, with about 44 percent favoring the plan, according to results released by Jefferson County Clerk Jennifer Maghan.

The vote count stood at 5,626 "no" votes and 4,429 "yes" votes, according to results.

Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, who was against the referendum, said county residents essentially decided they wanted to take more time to decide if they want the additional games and a number of reasons for voting against it.

"If something is not done to get Jefferson County a better deal in some form, I think it would have greater difficulty in getting passed in two years," Doyle said of the amount of time required to pass before a second vote can happen."

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"I'm certainly going to take that message to Charleston," Doyle said.

But "a better deal doesn't necessarily mean a change of something in the (gaming) bill" that allowed Saturday's vote, Doyle added.

"It can be something outside the bill," he said.

Doyle didn't expect the possibility of revisiting the gaming legislation until 2009 because fellow lawmakers have been opposed to considering them in election years.

"If the bill is to be changed in 2009, I don't care if the better deal comes at the state's expense or Penn National's expense," Doyle said.

Disappointed with the outcome and the opportunity for an additional $1.5 million per year for school facilities, Jefferson County Board of Education President Pete Dougherty said administrators might have to ask county residents to support a bond levy to build needed new schools.

"We need them now," said Dougherty, estimating between 25 and 30 trailers currently are holding overflow student populations at the county's elementary schools.

County Commissioner Jim Surkamp blamed track owner Penn National Gaming Inc. for the election defeat, asserting the Wyomissing, Pa.- based company "rushed" the election and didn't give voters time "make the connection between the additional money and the bill."

Surkamp said he had advocated that the vote take place next year.

In Ohio County, voters approved their referendum on table games. With 35 of 39 precincts reporting as of Saturday at 10 p.m., 66 percent of voters approved the proposal, while 34 percent rejected it.

Voters surveyed before the polls closed at 7:30 p.m. were divided over the whether to allow table games.

"My wife and I argued back and forth," said Neal Martineau, a town councilman in Shepherdstown, W.Va. "We had neighbors who really are against it. One guy in his 80s said it was going to change the moral character of the neighborhood."

But when push came to shove, Martineau said he voted for the games and believes his wife, Patty Martineau, did, too.

"It just sounds like a hell of a lot of fun," Martineau said. "I figure we are in need of the money. I voted for it."

"I have a feeling I'll lose an awful lot of friends," Martineau said.

Peter Wilson of Shepherdstown declined to say how he voted, but said much of the concern seems to arise around the issue of whether the larger casino could be "managed in a way that is positive for the county."

Richard Accurso, a Shepherdstown resident who voted no, said gambling is "morally decadent" and the wrong way to fund local schools - a key argument Penn National, the owner of the racetrack, had made to garner support.

"It does bring in business, as far as that's concerned, and it brings in money. But a house of prostitution brings in money. Is that the proper way to fund our schools?" Accurso said. "It's state-sponsored addiction."

But retirees Wes and Karen Croteau of Bolivar supported the measure, saying the fast-growing and largely residential county needs every dollar it can get for roads, schools and other infrastructure projects.

"If Bolivar doesn't get the money from Penn National, how are we going to get by?" Wes Croteau said. "How many bake sales are we going to have?"

Charles Town Races & Slots officials had trumpeted the additional games, at least 75 casino table games, as a revenue winner for Jefferson County public school facilities.

New additions also would be in store for the race track, including a 500-room hotel.

Jefferson County Schools would benefit, receiving about $1.5 million per year for new facilities.

Opponents fear the games might increase crime in the county and increase traffic congestion on already busy roads, among other worries.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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