Wheeling Island Hotel Casino Racetrack wants the West Virginia Legislature to permit a satellite casino within Ohio County. House Bill 2901 allowing that second gambling location was introduced this week in the House of Delegates.
In current law, slot machines and table games are only allowed on the premises of the four racetracks (Wheeling Island, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, Mardi Gras Casino and Resort at Cross Lanes, and Mountaineer Casino and Resort in Hancock County) and at the Greenbrier Resort.*
Additionally, the state licenses a limited number of slot machines at smaller betting parlors across the state.
State Racing Association President John Cavacini, who is pitching the bill at the State Capitol, said on Talkline Thursday that Wheeling Island is hamstrung by its location. He said the island in the middle of the Ohio River where the track and casino are located frequently floods, forcing the facility to close.
Cavacini said the casino operators are also worried about the upcoming major construction on I-70, including the bridge that crosses the Ohio River. The main exit for the casino is on that bridge. He said extended road work will make it more difficult for customers to reach the casino and business will suffer.
Cavacini said Delaware North, which owns the track and casino, wants to locate the satellite casino at the Highlands, a huge shopping complex just east of Wheeling. The Highlands was created initially to accommodate Cabela’s, the giant outdoors outfitters, but it has expanded significantly over the years.
According to its website, The Highlands now has 28 retail stores (including Cabela’s), 21 restaurants, 6 hotels, 20 service businesses, four industrial companies, three car dealers and one movie theater. The complex has easy access and egress along I-70, which Cavacini said will lead to an increase in customers who want to play slots or table games.
There is no mention in the bill of how much more money the satellite casino would generate. Cavacini said they have already cleared one fiscal hurdle by guaranteeing to the City of Wheeling that its share of gambling revenue would not drop, even if some of the business shifted to The Highlands.
The bill would allow any of the four racetracks to expand to satellite locations within their county of license. However, Cavacini said he does not expect the other three tracks to have as much interest in expansion because they already have prime locations.
The bill faces an uncertain future in the legislature because, well, it’s a gambling bill and they often trigger vigorous opposition from lawmakers who believe the state should not be in the gambling business and they reject anything that expands gambling. It is worth noting that House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Householder is a co-sponsor.
The bill has been referred to Judiciary and then Finance.
*(The bill would allow racetracks with casinos to establish a satellite location. The Greenbrier does not have a racetrack.)