CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The state Senate passed 31 bills on Wednesday, including a provision to cut state racetracks and casinos' table game license fees by $1 million for one year.
Wednesday was the 50th day of this year's legislative session, the so-called "crossover day" when all bills must be approved by their houses of origin to be considered for full passage.
Senators approved Senate Bill 615, which cuts the table game fees while simultaneously taking $4 million from the state Lottery's reserve funds, on a 23-10 vote largely along party lines. The legislation now goes to the House of Delegates.
The bill was hotly contested in the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, with senators from both parties questioning why the state should cut the fees when only one state racetrack has indicated it cannot pay the current $2.5 million rate.
Wheeling Island Racetrack and Casino has indicated it cannot afford the fee this year and without help from the Legislature likely would end its table games after its license expires in June.
Before Wednesday's floor vote, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said he would vote against the fee cut because he does not believe the racetracks are telling the truth about their financial situation.
Hall said Wheeling Island provided information that while table games previously brought in around $30 million, they are projected to make about $8 million this fiscal year. He said most of a casino's money comes from slot machines.
But Senate President Jeff Kessler said if table games go away, revenue from slots also would decline because fewer people would come to the racetracks.
"You'll see a corresponding drop in slot revenue as well," he said. "It's lose-lose-lose."
Kessler said there was a "significant likelihood" Wheeling Island would end its table games if the Legislature didn't act.
Proponents of the fee cuts like Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso admitted they are only a temporary solution.