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As gambling goes, so goes the state

In 2007, the four racetrack casinos in West Virginia asked for and received permission to run table games. Since then, neighboring states have opened 14 competing gambling facilities.

Now managers of the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack say it lost $171,407 on table games, which employs 105 people, in January and February.

Wheeling Island officials say they will shut down its table games in July if the state does not reduce its take from table game revenues.

To remain competitive, the state's tracks seek permission to reduce animal racing and to scale back taxes by $28.3 million a year.

The proposal includes:

* Dropping the state's take from 35 percent of the revenue to 25 percent. That would cost the state $22.3 million.

Pennsylvania's take is 16 percent, Ohio's 33 percent.

* Dropping the annual table games license fee from $2.5 million to $1 million. That would cost the state $6 million.

* Reducing the table game monies sent to the breeders funds by $6 million to make up for that.

* Reducing the minimum number of racing days from 200 to 150 days a year.

Not all four tracks have fallen on hard times, but all would benefit from these changes.

And West Virginians should not kid themselves: So would the state. Last year, the state raked in $78.1 million from table games alone.

That doesn't include the money the state took in from slot machines at the four racetracks and whatever money it nets from dog and horse racing.

The racetrack casinos are cash cows. The state has an economic stake in their survival.

Only a fool would milk the cows dry.

When West Virginia legalized slot machines at the four racetracks nearly a quarter-century ago, the state became a partner with the gambling industry. Gambling interests used the state's success as leverage to open the way for gambling in surrounding states.

But West Virginia taxpayers also profited. The more money out-of-state tourists dropped at these tracks, the less money taxpayers have had to pay.

The state needs to keep that going.



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