Senate President Jeff Kessler says legislation he’s sponsoring in the closing weeks of the 2013 Regular Legislative Session would be a lifeline for the three racinos in West Virginia that are struggling the most because of increased competition.
“We were very proactive in creating a model for gaming that became, truthfully, the envy of the nation and other states came in and stole our model,” the Marshall County Senator said.
New casinos are now open in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland.
Right now in the Mountain State, racino operators pay $2.5 million to the state each year to operate table games at their sites. The money goes into the Community Based Services Fund and pays for home health care for seniors.
Senator Kessler’s proposed bill (SB 615), which is now pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee, would lower that annual licensing fee to approximately $1.5 million for three of the four racinos in West Virginia.
Those sites are Mountaineer Casino Racetrack Resort in Hancock County, Wheeling Island Casino in Ohio County and Mardi Gras Casino in Kanawha County.
He says, in general, the racinos would be paying for the number of table games they operate. “We’re trying to give some temporary relief to the tracks that are really suffering,” Senate President Kessler said on Tuesday’s MetroNews Talkline.
His bill would take $3 million each year for the next two years from the purse fund, the prize money for dog and horse races at the tracks, to cover the funds lost because of the licensing fee reduction.
If the fees stay at $2.5 million, Senator Kessler says Wheeling Island officials, especially, may opt not to renew the site’s table games license later this year. “I’m afraid that that’s a very real possibility,” he said.
“If so, we’ve got numerous jobs over there and we also have the revenues that we’re getting in the state, as a result of that activity you’ll see a corresponding decline.”
An alternative bill (SB 455) that would lower the annual licensing fee for table games to $1 million while making changes to horse and dog race requirements at the racinos is also pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The 2013 Regular Legislative Session ends on Saturday, April 13th.