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Track officials: Table games would bring jobs to Jefferson County

November 29, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

o Jefferson Co. residents to vote on table games

o Lawmaker changes stand on table games

o Measuring impact part of table games equation

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Behind an interior wall at the sprawling Charles Town Races & Slots is about 30,000 square feet of unfinished space that could easily be transformed into room for 85 to 100 blackjack, roulette, craps and other table games, according to General Manager Al Britton.

Britton says the racetrack intends to hire at least 500 people for the more labor-intensive casino games if the expansion of gaming is approved by Jefferson County voters in a Saturday referendum.

The additional employment projected is a "pretty conservative number," Britton said. The racetrack now employs about 1,200 people, he said.

Of the 500 new jobs created, Britton said 350 to 375 would be dealers. About 100 more would be supervisors and managers, and the remaining "30ish" positions would be in security and other customer services.

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Dealers are expected to make at least $45,000 a year based on what they are paid at the two tracks in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle, Britton said.

Table games were approved at tracks in Wheeling and Chester, W.Va., in 2007.

Because of market differences, "we feel very strongly our dealers will earn more than that," said Britton of the Baltimore-Washington area's affluence.

In an interview last Tuesday, West Virginia Racing Association President John Cavacini Jr. said blackjack dealers at Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center in Cross Lanes, W.Va., averaged $31.18 an hour in the last five weeks, which would work out to about $64,000 a year. That figure didn't include benefits, Cavacini said.

Dealers for the other games in that time span made $23.45 per hour, or $49,000 a year, at the racetrack near Charleston, W.Va., according to Cavacini, a lobbyist for the state's four racetracks.

"They are not low-pay, unskilled jobs," Cavacini said.

At the same time, Cavacini and Britton said the dealers' salaries also are dependent upon gamblers' tips. Tips generally are pooled and distributed as wages in addition to an hourly wage, Britton said.

A player sometimes will tip a dealer by pushing a chip in his direction or making a wager on behalf of the dealer, Britton said.

Based on the fact that Charles Town Races & Slots has generated about half of the slots revenue for state and local government coffers, Cavacini said he believes Britton's salary estimates are "extremely conservative."

The state's other racetracks -- Tri-State, Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort, and Wheeling Island Hotel Casino Racetrack -- added a total of about 1,500 jobs after table games were approved in 2007. The additional jobs then also included valet, food and beverage, and other service-oriented positions, Cavacini said.

Currently, 900 to 1,000 people are assigned to table games operations at the three tracks. Since bringing table games online, Mountaineer and Wheeling Island in the Northern Panhandle have been particularly challenged by competition from nearby Pennsylvania gaming locations, and by the economic downturn and layoffs, Cavacini said.

"In the end, the amenities that we provide and the services we provide as a company will be the deciding point as to where the customers go," Cavacini said.

Britton said a number of the facility's current employees are interested in the new positions, but the company also will be looking for supervisors and game managers with experience.

While no experience is necessary and training will be provided on-site through a partnership with Blue Ridge Community & Technical College, Britton said some physical dexterity is needed.

"We want folks that are providing a good experience for the players," Britton said. "We will encourage (the new employees) to get trained in as many games as possible."

Linda White, who has worked at the Charles Town track since 2001, said she intends to apply for one of the new jobs, if given the chance.

"Being that I've worked on the 'floor,' I think that I have a lot to offer," said White, who works at the front desk at The Inn at Charles Town, the Charles Town Races & Slots hotel.

White said she believes the voters will approve table games, given the difficult economic situation.

"A lot of people need jobs," White said.

Given the extra staffing needed for table games, Britton said they will not be nearly as profitable as slots, but will add another attraction to stay competitive

While Pennsylvania and Maryland have approved slots, Delaware has gone a step further and approved table games, Britton said.

"We just want to be able to compete with our neighboring states," Britton said.

Next in the series:



o Not all horsemen at Charles Town Races & Slots agree with the way proposed table game revenues should be distributed to them.

o The question of whether voters should approve table games at Charles Town Races & Slots during Saturday's referendum drew mixed answers from 10 people who talked about the issue.

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