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W.Va. casino bill stalls in committee

March 21, 2013|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — A bill to significantly cut the number of racing days at West Virginia’s two horse and two dog tracks has failed to come out of committee, state Sen. Herb Snyder said Thursday.

“Senate Bill 455 is not going anywhere,” Snyder said.

The bill called for scaling back racing at all four tracks from 220 days a year to 150, a move that could force many horsemen to quit racing because fewer race days mean fewer purses, Randy Funkhouser, president of the 1,500-plus member Horsemen’s Benovolent and Protective Association (HBPA), said at Thursday’s Jefferson County Commission meeting.

The bill was supported by the West Virginia Racing Commission.

Al Britton, general manager of Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, called it “an industry bill” during an appearance before the commission Thursday.

Purses at all four tracks bring in about $80 million a year, Snyder said. Charles Town, the biggest of the four, takes in the lion’s share, he said.

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“The HBPA (members) are highly irritated that money could be taken from them,” said Snyder, D-Jefferson/Berkeley.

A new bill to replace 455 will be filed Monday calling for, among other things, reducing the annual license fee that all four casinos pay to run table games from $2.5 million to $1.5 million, he said.

Charles Town’s gross annual revenue from table games is $160 million; Mountain park is $230 million; Tri-State is $20 million and Wheeling is $12 million, according to Snyder.

Charles Town, because of its size, would still pay $2.5 million. Owners at Wheeling Downs said it wouldn’t be worth buying a license at $2.5 million, he said.

Snyder is opposed to the new bill. The license fees go directly to the program that provides home health care to elderly residents. If the fee is cut to $1.5 million for the three casinos, the program would lose $3 million beginning July 1.

“There are 1,800 seniors on waiting lists for home health care,” he said.

The new bill calls for making up the loss by taking more money from racing purses.

Snyder said he wants to amend it.

“All four casinos and tracks together take in around $800 million a year. That would only be a little ripple for everyone instead of taking it just from the purses,” he said.

The Legislature stems from worries about competition from expanding gaming venues in border states Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland, gaming officials have said.

The concern came home to Jefferson County this week when county commissioners cut their $5 million estimated annual revenue tax income from Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races by 5 percent.

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