CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A bill meant to make table games more affordable for state racetracks is now drawing criticisms from that industry following amendments made in the state Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
Senate President Jeff Kessler, the bill's sponsor, also spoke out against Sen. Herb Snyder's changes to the legislation, which restores money to race purse funds but takes away state matching money for purchasing new slot machines.
Kessler introduced his bill earlier this week, which would lower table game licensing fees from $2.5 million to $1.5 million for three state racetracks.
Wheeling Island Racetrack and Casino has indicated it cannot afford to renew its table game license at the current $2.5 million yearly rate.
An earlier bill, backed by the West Virginia Racing Association, would have reduced all state racetracks' table game fees to $1 million.
Kessler's bill would allow the three smaller racetracks -- Wheeling Island, Mountaineer Racetrack in the Northern Panhandle and Mardi Gras Casino and Resort in Cross Lanes -- to pay a smaller fee. The racetrack and casino in Charles Town, a much larger operation, still would pay the $2.5 million fee.
"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."
The Senate Judiciary Committee made significant changes to that legislation during a Thursday morning meeting.
At Snyder's suggestion, the committee unanimously agreed to amend the bill and allow all state gaming facilities to pay $1.5 million in table game license fees. The amended bill would then make up that difference by cutting the state's Race Track Modernization Fund from $10 million a year to $5 million.
The fund, established in 2011, was intended to help state casinos stave off an expected decline in revenue by helping the gaming facilities purchase new slot machines. Casinos currently receive 50 cents for every dollar spent on new machines, up to $10 million a year, funded by the West Virginia Lottery.
Under Snyder's amendment, they would receive 25 cents per dollar, up to $5 million.
Snyder pointed out his amendment not only makes up revenues that would be lost in reducing table game fees, but gives state senior services an additional $1 million.
Kessler said Snyder's changes have weakened the bill.
In his original introduced version of the legislation, table game license fees were only reduced for three state racetracks. Kessler made up that money by taking $3 million away from race purse funds for the next two years.
Kessler said his version of the bill might have temporarily cut race purse funds, but it protected the racing facilities so they could continue to feed money into the purses.