CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Lawmakers will be taking a comprehensive look at West Virginia’s gaming industry between now and the start of the 2014 Regular Legislative Session.
Senate President Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) said that review could lead to changes in how the state’s licensing fee for table games is assessed.
“I think we ought to have a more equitable distribution of the fees we charge,” said Kessler.
“We charge with the LVLs (lottery machines), everybody who has a machine in their place pays a licensing fee per machine. Table games, we give them one flat fee and, whether you have one table or 200 tables, you pay the same.”
Earlier this week, officials with Wheeling Island Hotel Casino Racetrack in Ohio County announced the site will pay the $2.5 million state licensing fee and renew table games for one more year starting on July 1.
There had been concerns those with Wheeling Island would opt not to renew the license because of the costs of running the tables at a time when profits are down due to growing gambling competition from Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The move would have likely cost jobs for those who work the tables and created a hole in funding for in-home care for seniors. The money from the licensing fees goes into those programs through the Bureau of Senior Services.
“What I’m interested in doing, at least at this point, is preserving the jobs. So, in some respects, I am grateful that they agreed to renew the fee because it does preserve those jobs,” said Kessler on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
“In the interim, we’ll be looking at a study to see what we can do to, maybe, more equitably treat some of these facilities and the entire gaming industry.”
A legislative effort, earlier this year, to reduce the fee by $1 million failed.
House Minority Leader Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha) said the current fee should stand.
He said the gambling industry already gets plenty of help from the state in the form of money for purses, the development of greyhounds and horses and millions for capital investments each year.
“I think it’s insulting to the other businesses that are trying to make ends meet, trying to keep the payroll paid and keep their employees employed and we need to concentrate on true reforms that help all businesses in West Virginia put people back to work,” said Armstead.
Armstead said, from the start, everyone knew gambling competition was going to be an issue one day. “It’s a very unstable revenue source because of competition,” he said.
Those with Wheeling Island, Mountaineer Casino Racetrack, Casino, Racetrack & Resort in Hancock County, Mardi Gras Casino in Kanawha County and Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races all pay the $2.5 licensing fee for table games each year.
In addition to that fee, there is a 35% state tax on table games.
At the same time lawmakers are considering changes, members of the state Lottery Commission are also looking at a separate proposal that would let Wheeling Island, along with other casino sites, operate electronic table games to help lower personnel costs.
Kessler does not support that proposal. “That undermines, in my view at least, the entire premise of the table games initiative to begin with, the whole foundation of the jobs, opportunities, etc. is gone,” he said.