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Groups disagree over impact of table games at Charles Town

November 04, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Two groups, one that wants Charles Town Races & Slots to add table games and one that does not, have come up with arguments they claim are based on extensive research to support their positions.

Jefferson County voters will decide Dec. 5 on whether to bring table games to Charles Town. Table games include poker, blackjack, Caribbean stud, craps and roulette, among other games.

Members of the Gateway New Economy Council pored over Jefferson County, state and West Virginia Lottery statistics to come up with a 31-page study that outlines how much the state, Jefferson County and its five municipalities have received since slot machines (video lottery terminals or VLTs) opened at the race track in 1997.

In 2008, state and local governments shared more than $897 million in VLT revenues. Nearly half, $411 million, came from the more than 5,000 slot machines at Charles Town Races & Slots (CTRS), according to Gateway's study.

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On Wednesday morning, Gateway New Economy Council, a Shepherdstown-based volunteer group dedicated to participate in and benefit from the "new economy" of the 21st century, held a teleconference with the press to explain details of its study. 

Participating in the teleconference were Walter Pellish, council vice president; Mark Dyck, vice president of the Jefferson County Development Authority Board of Directors; Thomas Bayuzik, the authority's executive director; and Heather Morgan, executive director of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.

Jefferson County's share of slot machine revenues in 2008 accounted for about 23 percent of the county's budget, according to County Commission President Dale Manuel.

The county's 10-year total in slot revenues was $24.8 million, while the county's incorporated towns shared nearly $3.7 million in slot machine money in 2008. The amount each town received is based on its population. 

Ranson received $1.28 million, Charles Town, $1.26 million; Shepherdstown, $523,000; Bolivar, $454,000; and Harpers Ferry, $133,000.

If approved, table games will add 500 new jobs to the 1,200 employees now on CTRS's payroll, proponents of the game say. About 450 of the new workers, mostly dealers and managers, will earn salaries in the $45,000-a-year range, not including benefits, Pellish said.

Officials at Penn National Gaming Inc., owners of CTRS, said they need table games to stay competitive with the implementation of slot machines in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

"In order to accommodate these market trends, CTRS believes that they should add table games, in addition to VLTs and the continuation of thoroughbred horse racing, in order to grow and sustain the CTRS operation," the Gateway study said.

If the referendum passes, the West Virginia Lottery Commission projects new revenues of $129 million from the games. Also, the games would increase play at the slot machines by about 7.5 percent or another $35 million in new slot revenue.

"Vote No Table Games," a nonprofit, Jefferson County-based group of private citizens opposed to the games, is conducting its own research on the issue.

The Vote No group claims to have "actual facts" on the legislation that allows table games, already in place at West Virginia's three other racetracks.

Joe Brand is Vote No's vice president.

Brand, in an e-mail response to the Gateway study, claimed tax revenue to the county from slots would be more than 10 percent higher than those from table games. He disputes the Gateway study that says table games will increase play at the slot machines. 

Table games decrease slot machine play by gamblers by an average of 9 percent to 13 percent, Brand said.

"Anyone can see that the current tax revenues enjoyed by Jefferson County will suffer. The additional tax revenues from table games will not offset the losses from the decline in slots revenue," he said.

Brand addressed other aspects of the study in his e-mail.

"I want to be clear that the bill authorizing race tracks to operate gambling devices as licensed by the state is not the same as any other normal business. Slots and table games are exclusive licenses from the state to operate what for any other business or individual is illegal," he wrote.  

"Therefore, this study is trying to compare an exclusive government monopoly to another business such as a hardware store, a movie theater or a restaurant," Brand wrote.

Jefferson County voters defeated table games in a 2007 referendum.

On the Web



See Gateway's complete study by logging on to the council's Web site at www.gnec.org.

Vote No Table Games Web site is www.VoteNoTableGames.org.

If you go ...



o The League of Women Voters of Jefferson County will hold a public forum on table games today at 7 p.m. at the War Memorial building at German and King streets in Shepherdstown. Speakers on both sides of the issue will speak.

o Vote No Table Games, a nonprofit group of private citizens opposed to table games, will hold town hall meetings Nov. 9 and 16 at 7 p.m. at the Charles Town Library to "educate the public on the table games bill and its impact on our community," according to a press release.

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