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Thoughts on the defeat of the 'table games' plan

June 12, 2007

Frustrated by Saturday's defeat of a plan to add so-called "table games" at Charles Town Races and Slots, a senior vice president of the firm that owns the track said citizens will see their mistake when Maryland adds its own slot machines.

Then it will be a situation of "I told you so," said John Finamore, senior vice president of regional operations for Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns the local thoroughbred track.

Finamore said that contrary to what was said by state Del. John Doyle, a "better deal" for the local area is unlikely to materialize.

Doyle, D-Jefferson, said prior to Saturday's vote that while the local school system would have received $1.5 million annually from table games, West Virginia gets $171 million annually from the slot machines at Charles Town.

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Is Doyle's "better deal" possible? Maybe. Consider the following:

The measure's defeat means that Penn National can't seek another referendum vote for two years. Even if Maryland approved the legalization of slot machines tomorrow, the process of writing regulations, appointing an oversight board and seeking bids will take a long time.

It took Pennsylvania almost two years after slots were legalized to begin getting any revenue.

West Virginia will want the additional funds table games will bring. That will all be new money. Is it so far-fetched to imagine that more of it might be shared with Jefferson County?

If, as Doyle said, there is also citizen concern about the additional traffic that would be generated from table games, there will now be time for traffic studies and a look at how casino-style games did or didn't increase traffic at facilities in other states.

The bottom line: If Penn National is anticipating quick action from Maryland on slots of its own, the experience of the past five years suggests that might be unrealistic.

To win the next vote, Penn National needs to put aside the recriminations and convince voters that it's in Jefferson County's best interests to approve it.

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