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Table games to get 2nd vote in Jefferson Co.

August 06, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. -- Jefferson County voters once again will decide whether to allow table games at Charles Town Races & Slots.

The Jefferson County Commissioners agreed Thursday to set Dec. 5 for a countywide referendum on the issue.

Proponents of the games, including the commissioners, believe the games have a better chance of passing this time because a bigger slice of the money the track generates will go the county, its five municipalities and the school district.

Al Britton, general manager of Charles Town Races & Slots, told the commissioners the county should expect about $6.4 million a year, which includes $4 million for its schools. 

Table games including poker, roulette and blackjack would be added to the more than 5,000 slot machines at the thoroughbred racetrack.

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In June 2007, 56 percent of voters rejected the addition of the games, requested by Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns the track.

But proponents believe the recession, a countywide 8.3 percent unemployment rate in June, the threat that new slots in Maryland will take away business from the track and a better financial deal give the games a better chance of passing this time.

Britton promised more than 500 new jobs if the games are added.

The sense of urgency among residents, local leaders and the business community, even among some who formerly were opposed to the games, is amazing, Britton told the commissioners.

In a press release issued after Thursday's meeting, Britton said, "We are pleased to receive so much support and are excited at the prospect of this economic growth. We believe now is the time to bring table games to Charles Town Races and Slots."

"People don't realize how things would be without the money the track brings in," Commissioner Patricia Noland said. "We'd be $4 million in the hole every year. It allows us to do things that other counties can only dream about."

She said the "track is a good neighbor."

Commissioners President Dale Manuel said track proceeds account for 22 percent of the county's annual operating budget. 

Manuel urged Britton to consider increasing the wages of the track's employees if the games are added.

"The employees are at the low end of the stick. Put them in for a few dollars, too," he said.

Commissioner Frances Morgan's sympathies are with the track's horsemen, who she said are very important to the entire operation. Legislators have cut the percentage of gambling profits that go to the horsemen.

West Virginia legalized slot machines in 1994 as a way to save its then-dying horse industry.

Also riding on Jefferson County's vote, according to the legislation allowing the games, are West Virginia's three racetracks and gambling facilities in Kanawha, Ohio and Hancock counties. If Jefferson County's referendum passes, they will receive an additional 1 1/2 percent in gambling proceeds.

Penn National, one of the nation's largest gambling companies, has operations in 14 states.

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