Table games not in the cards at track

February 15, 2009|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Charles Town Races & Slots officials say they do not have any plans to push for table games in June, although they could try to gain passage again at that time, according to a track official.

Jefferson County voters on June 9, 2007, rejected a proposal to allow table games such as poker, roulette and blackjack at the racetrack. Since then, track officials have been polling county residents periodically to gauge how they feel about the games, said John Finamore, senior vice president of regional operations for Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns the track.

As a result of the polling, track officials have determined that the county is still not ready to support the games, Finamore said.

"In the meantime, the company has other things to do," Finamore said.

In the 2007 referendum, 56 percent of those who cast ballots voted against table games. When a referendum is held on table games, the matter cannot be placed before the voters again for two years.


Finamore said slot machine revenue at the track is down about 6 percent so far this fiscal year compared to the same time period last year.

Part of the downturn is due to the poor economy, and the decline is expected to continue with neighboring Maryland's moves toward slot machines, Finamore said.

Finamore said Charles Town needs table games to remain competitive with gambling in other states.

Maryland voters in November approved a constitutional amendment that gave the General Assembly the go-ahead to approve slot machine legislation.

The vote paved the way for Maryland to have no more than 15,000 slot machines at five locations, including at Rocky Gap State Park in Allegany County.

The nation's recession and developer reluctance with the overall plan brought bids for only 6,550 machines by a Feb. 9 deadline, according to The Associated Press.

Proponents of slots in Maryland say the revenue from the machines will provide revenue for the budget.

Slotting the revenue

Since the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1, Charles Town Races & Slots and its 5,013 slot machines have logged a little more than $250 million in adjusted gross terminal income, according to a state lottery Web site.

State legislation requires that 2 percent of the track's net terminal income go to Jefferson County government and the county's municipalities.

The Jefferson County Commission receives the full 2 percent of the money until it reaches about $1 million, at which time the county and the towns split the 2 percent funding, said Commission President Dale Manuel.

Since July 1, the Jefferson County Commission has received a little more than $2.6 million, according to figures from the West Virginia Lottery.

The money that goes to the towns is based on population.

From July 1 to Jan. 17, Ranson received the largest amount of gaming money, at $600,640. Harpers Ferry received the least amount, $62,495.47.

Bolivar, a small town next to Harpers Ferry, has been using slot machine money for road repairs and gave $45,000 to Harpers Ferry for replacement of a water tank, said Bolivar Town Council member Bob Hardy.

The town also has added a planning administrator and hired employees for street duties and mowing, Hardy said.

"Basically, we operate the whole town, the majority of it, from racetrack (money)," Hardy said.

Slot machine money has become an integral part of government operations in the county, and in some cases, what it's spent on has changed.

When the Jefferson County Commission started receiving slot machine money in 1999, members said they would use the money only for capital projects, said Commission President Dale Manuel.

County officials back then steered away from using the money for employees or salaries because doing so could pose a problem and adversely affect employees, should the money not be available, Manuel said.

Now, however, the county uses slot machine money for employees and salaries, Manuel said.

"We are very dependent on those dollars to provide services," Manuel said.

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