Back room move kills bill

Apr 12, 2005 6:09 AM

Be careful of those closed-door meetings when important legislation is being discussed. That’s what two racetracks in West Virginia learned last week.

What appeared to be a slam dunk — a bill that would allow both Charles Town Racetrack and Casino and Mountaineer Racetrack and Gaming Resort to operate table games at their gambling emporiums — suddenly found itself without legislative support and died.

Actually, the bill, Senate Bill 442, would have allowed residents of four counties that host racetracks, Hancock, Jefferson, Kanawha and Ohio, to vote on whether to permit table games at the tracks. Supporters, and there seemed to be a majority, felt the added gaming opportunities would keep gamblers in West Virginia and keep them from going to out-of-state casinos. Opponents just feared another layer of gambling added to the video lottery machines in operation at the tracks.

A Mountaineer spokesman said it appeared that support for the bill evaporated among legislators during a closed-door meeting of the Democratic majority. Later, House Speaker Bob Kiss announced that he was pulling the bill from discussion and that for all intents and purposes the matter was a dead issue.

In February, an Associated Press poll of the lawmakers on the table games issue found that 18 of the 25 members of the House Judiciary Committee favored the bill. Also, of the 100 lawmakers polled, 77 or 60% said they would vote to permit table games at the tracks.

Big losers were Penn National Gaming Inc. (PENN), owners and operators of Charles Town, and MTR Gaming Group Inc. (MNTG), whose Mountaineer Racetrack and Gaming Resort has been the best provider of revenues.

Supporters of adding table games to the slot machine mix are confident that they can revive interest in the legislation and have it reintroduced for action later in the year.