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Majority leader: Lawmakers want games issue to 'go away'

June 12, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - House Majority Leader Joe DeLong said Monday he doubts the Legislature will revisit a casino table games law it recently passed because lawmakers wanted to get the issue behind them.

Del. John Doyle, an outspoken opponent of the casino table games proposal that was rejected by county voters in a referendum Saturday, said before the election that voters should reject the games until a better deal is offered.

Doyle, D-Jefferson, argued that the county would not get a fair share of gambling proceeds from the games if they were approved for Charles Town Races & Slots.

Although DeLong said "anything is possible," the Hancock County Democrat said he doubts lawmakers have much of an appetite to re-examine the casino table games law because they felt it took up too much time when it was being crafted.

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Lawmakers wanted the issue to "go away," DeLong said.

"It's not something I would perceive happening," DeLong said of a reconsideration of the law.

The job of the majority leader is to oversee the day-to-day operations of committees in the House of Delegates and DeLong has taken an interest in issues facing the Eastern Panhandle since he was elected to the position late last year.

Meanwhile, a Jefferson County Schools official said he and his colleagues would search for other sources of funding for schools, but he did not hold out a lot of hope.

The track can ask for another table games election in two years, but that could mean up to a five-year process of getting funding from the games for schools if the games are approved then, said Pete Dougherty, president of the Jefferson County Board of Education.

Casino table games like blackjack and roulette were seen as a way to generate money for the growing school system because language in the table games law would have steered about $1.5 million a year to schools.

Track owners said they needed casino table games to stave off gambling competition from other states and they were prepared to begin operating at least 75 tables.

Voters soundly rejected the proposal by casting 5,626 "no" votes in Saturday's referendum compared to 4,429 votes for the games, according to complete but unofficial results.

Although a track official lashed out at Shepherdstown, W.Va., voters for their strong opposition to the games at the polls, the games had a tough go at most precincts.

The track only won in nine out of the county's 30 precincts, according to returns.

In Shepherdstown's three precincts, the unofficial vote count was nearly 2-1 against the games, with 492 voting in favor of allowing them and 948 voting "no."

Dougherty, a supporter of table games, said he thinks state officials could have done more to address concerns involving table games.

Although Dougherty disagreed with table game opponents that the games would have caused traffic congestion, he said state officials could have told people that the state would help with road improvements to handle any traffic problems.

Regarding school funding, Dougherty said school officials will perhaps look to the state School Building Authority for help in meeting the needs of the growing school system, although that does not look hopeful.

"It leaves the Board of Education and the schoolchildren in the worst of all positions. We have need and no funding," Dougherty said.

Although Doyle on Monday agreed with DeLong's assessment that most lawmakers wanted to get the table games issue behind them, he pointed out that lawmakers have revisited the state's slot machine law three times since it was passed.

Doyle suggested that the track's proposed tax on table games be increased to generate more revenue for local government.

That further aggravated track spokesman John Finamore, who has been at odds with Doyle over the issue.

"Every day he provides more quotes that blow me away," Finamore said Monday.

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