CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A bill to reduce table game licensing fees at state racetracks received another major overhaul in the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, after the state gaming industry pushed back on earlier changes.
S.B. 615 now will cut table game license fees by $1 million for each state racetrack, using money from the state lottery fund to fill that hole.
The amendment was approved by a split vote in the Senate Finance Committee. It was then approved during a Tuesday evening floor session with a 24-8 vote, falling along party lines. Sens. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, and Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, were not present for the vote.
State racetracks pay $2.5 million per year for the licenses. That money funds senior services in the state.
But Wheeling Island Racetrack and Casino has indicated it cannot afford the fee this year because of sinking revenues.
Previous versions of the bill would have cut table game fees by $1 million and replaced that lost revenue with funds from either race purse funds or, alternatively, a state modernization fund, set up to help racetracks purchase new slot machines.
The state sets aside $10 million in funds each year to help state gaming facilities purchase new slot machines, reimbursing racetracks 50 cents for each dollar they spend on new machines.
Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, proposed an amendment to S.B. 615 that would have cut that fund in half, using the $5 million to plug the hole left by table game fee reductions. The extra $1 million would have gone to senior services.
But speaking after Tuesday evening's floor session, Snyder said he has since learned that amendment would not have worked. He said the modernization funds are part of a larger state lottery fund, and current state law does not permit lottery officials to pull money specifically from the modernization fund.
Prezioso acknowledged the $4 million plug is a one-time fix. He is co-sponsoring a bill that would establish a special study committee to assess the state gaming industry's problems.
"It's going to take a comprehensive study to come forward with a legit, long term solution," he said.
Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, asked Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, why the state had to reduce table game license fees for all casinos, when Wheeling Island is the only one who can't afford it.
"It sounds like you took a million dollar problem and made a $4 million problem out of it," he said.
Prezioso said it was the best compromise he could come up with in 24 hours.
State dog and horse breeders did not like the original version of the bill, where purse funds would be reduced, and the state's gaming industry didn't like the amendment to remove money from the modernization fund.
So late Monday night, members of the Finance Committee met with representatives from the gaming industry and officials from the state lottery to come up with a compromise.
Prezioso said Lottery Director John Musgrave said he could give up $4 million from the lottery's modernization, table games, scratch-off lottery and other funds to plug the hole left by the table game fee reduction.
That money will go into a "lottery administrative reserve fund," which will make a one-time payment to the state's senior services fund.
"If you've got a better idea we'd like to hear it," Prezioso told Chafin. "I've never voted for a gaming bill but I see the daily revenue stream that I've got to deal with. And right now we're taking a nose dive."