WHEELING, W.Va. -- The gamble paid off.
Wheeling Island Racetrack and Casino announced Monday it would renew its annual $2.5 million table game license fee, despite telling state lawmakers it could not afford the fee and likely would not re-up the license.
A bill to reduce the license fee died in the House Judiciary Committee earlier this year, where members opted to roll the dice and hope the casino would renew its license anyway.
Osi Imomoh, Wheeling Island's new president and general manager, said table games still are not expected to make a profit over the next year. In fact, they are expected to lose about $1 million.
But Imomoh said the casino chose to renew its license in hopes the Legislature would reduce the fees, as well as the state's 35 percent tax on table games, during the 2014 regular session.
The push to reduce table game license fees from $2.5 million to $1 million arose late in this year's legislative session. Imomoh said it did not give lawmakers enough time to work out the kinks of the legislation.
"We didn't have enough time to get it through the complete process," he said. "It's not just for us. It's for the casinos around the state."
He said casinos opening in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland are putting the squeeze on West Virginia facilities by drawing away business. Those other states also have lower taxes on casinos: Pennsylvania charges a 16 percent table game tax while Ohio has a 33 percent tax and no annual fee.
"When you look at those things and combine what's happening, overall we need to sit down and come up with a plan," Imomoh said.
Wheeling Island has 24 table games, along with live Greyhound races, a nine-table poker room and more than 1,600 slot machines. The racetrack and casino has around 650 employees, with 100 dedicated to table games.
House Judiciary chairman Tim Miley said the bill to reduce table game license fees died in his committee because it did not have enough support to pass.
He said it was not an easy decision to make. Wheeling Island lies within Senate President Jeff Kessler's district and Kessler, D-Marshall, introduced the bill because he feared the racetrack would not re-up the license and cut dozens of jobs in the area.
"You try to balance what's in the best interest of the state while still helping certain specific areas of the state," Miley said. "That's the balance we always find ourselves in.