Mountaineer vote on table games nears

Jun 19, 2007 5:33 AM

If you see Ted Arneault, president of MTR Gaming Group (MNTG) with a worried look on his face, don’t think it’s because the offers for Binion’s downtown Las Vegas casino are slow in coming.

More likely, his mind is on the forthcoming vote by the residents of Hancock County, West Virginia, which will decide whether the company’s Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort will be able to install table games.

The state’s four pari-mutuel operations have provided millions of dollars to the state and local counties over the past half-dozen years so permission by state lawmakers to give voters a chance to expand gaming at these facilities seemed like a slam dunk.

But that idea was shot down last week when the voters in Jefferson County, home of Charles Town Races & Slots, owned by Penn National Gaming Inc. (PENN) rejected the table games idea by a wide margin.

Yet, voters in Ohio County, again by a wide margin, strongly favored installing table games at privately-held Wheeling Island Racetrack and Gaming Center, a property owned by Delaware North of Buffalo, N.Y.

Wheeling Island officials immediately reacted by setting up a job fair to fill the 200 jobs expected to be created by the table game addition.

That bode well for both Mountaineer and the other pari-mutuel facility, Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming in Kanawha County. This property is owned by the gaming entrepreneurs Tyner and Hartman of Detroit, Mich., and is fronted by Dan Atkins, who is well-known among Las Vegas race book managers because of his involvement in greyhound racing simulcasting.

The Kanawha voters go to the polls on Aug. 11 while Hancock officials have set their vote for June 30.

Meanwhile, Arneault has sweetened the pot for Hancock voters by announcing that he plans to expand the Mountaineer resort if the voters look kindly on the table game plan. He says his company will add a 250-room hotel, golf course, equestrian trails and other amenities. The plan also calls for a housing development ranging from single-family homes to condominiums, a restaurant, skeet shooting, archery, falconry, public fishing and boating docks.

The company’s goal, said Arneault, is to make Mountaineer a destination resort offering a variety of activities.

That won’t happen if the West Virginia Family Foundation, a conservative Christian activist group, has its way. A spokesman on Monday said the group would ask a federal court to overturn a state law that allows the four counties to vote on the gaming expansion. The group said it will not wait until after the next two counties cast their ballots.

As for Binion’s, the place is available if the price is right.