West Virginia says roll them dice

Mar 13, 2007 3:04 AM

West Virginia lawmakers, pleased with nearly a dozen years of receiving revenues from racetrack slots, have voted to permit the four gaming operators to convert their facilities into full-fledged casinos.

A Senate-House conference committee agreed last week to approve a bill that will permit the tracks that now offer slot machine gaming, in addition to their pari-mutuel activities, to install table games such as blackjack, dice, roulette and other such gaming devices.

Gov. Joe Manchin, who indicated he favored the bill, said he plans to sign it.

"I think that was the responsible thing to do," Manchin said referring to the provision that requires that each county in which the tracks reside must approve the addition gambling.

Affected are two public companies, Penn National Gaming Inc. (PENN), operator of Charles Town Races & Slots and Mountaineer Racetrack & Gaming Resort in Chester, owned by MTR Gaming Group Inc. (MNTG.

The other two pari-mutuel facilities are greyhound tracks operated by Michigan-based Hartman & Tyner Inc., and Delaware North Companies of Buffalo, N.Y.

The next step is for the tracks to either request that the county commission put the question on the next primary or general election ballot or ask for a special election provided the tracks are prepared to pick up the cost.

The gambling tax on the table games has been set at 35% with a $1.5 million initial license fee to be paid by each participating track.

Supporters of the legislation said the state needed to be proactive relative to gaming in light of the recent licensing of slot facilities in Pennsylvania, and the potential slots legislation in Maryland, that could provide serious competition to the West Virginia tracks.

Both Penn National and MTR Gaming have racetrack slots operations in Pennsylvania.