CHARLESTON, W.Va. - While it would not give the state gaming industry everything it wants, a bill recently introduced by Senate President Jeff Kessler would address one imminent problem for state racetracks.
John Cavacini, president of the West Virginia Racing Association, said Wheeling Island Racetrack and Casino cannot afford to renew its table game license at the current $2.5 million yearly rate.
An association-backed bill introduced earlier this year would reduce those license fees to $1 million.
That legislation also includes many other changes to the state's gaming industry, including reducing the required number of dog and horse races at state racetracks. It has not gained any traction in the state Senate, however.
On Friday, Kessler introduced a compromise bill that would temporarily reduce license fees but make no other changes to state racetracks and casinos.
Kessler's bill would change the way the state calculates racetracks' table game licensing fees, allowing smaller racetracks like Wheeling, Mountaineer Racetrack in the Northern Panhandle and Mardi Gras Casino and Resort in Cross Lanes to pay $1.5 million to renew their licenses.
The casino and racetrack in Charles Town, a much larger operation, still would pay the $2.5 million fee under Kessler's bill.
"It recognizes that one size doesn't fit all," he said. "At the end of the day, I'm concerned if we don't take some action a couple of the struggling tracks ... may not renew its license."
Kessler's bill also reduces purses for dog and horse races by $3 million for the next two years. The earlier legislation would have permanently reduced the purses by $6 million a year.
Kessler said the original legislation doesn't have much chance of passing this session, but his version may be easier for lawmakers to stomach.
"I think it was way too broad," he said. "Gaming bills are always tough. Everyone wants change and no one wants change."
Cavacini said Kessler's bill is not as expansive as association-backed legislation introduced earlier this year but would fix a major looming problem.
He said the reduction in table game licensing fees would allow Wheeling Island Racetrack and Casino to re-up its license in July. The casino probably would not be able to afford renewing the license at its current $2.5 million rate.
The earlier bill, supported by the West Virginia Racing Association, would have cut the state's table game taxes from 35 to 25 percent, and reduced casinos' annual table game license fees from $2.5 million to $1 million.
The moves would cost the state about $6 million, but the bill made up for that revenue by diverting money that currently goes to greyhound and horse racing purses.