Three of four West Virginia racetracks aim to have voters decide June 9
whether to allow table games in their slots-only casinos, but executives say
the timing of votes in Hancock, Ohio and Kanawha counties is more about
urgency than strategy. "I don't think it was really organized. It's just the
first available day we could get,'' Bob Marshall, president of Wheeling
Island Racetrack & Gaming Center, said Tuesday. There will, however, likely
be some advertising coordination between Marshall's Ohio County operation
and the nearby Mountaineer Racetrack & Gaming Resort in Chester. "We would
certainly not want to confuse the media market,'' Marshall said, predicting
the launch of what both tracks call a public education campaign by the end
of April. But a conservative Christian activist group hoping to stop the
referenda says the simultaneous votes are more than coincidence; they are an
effort to divide and conquer the opposition. "I didn't ride in on a turnip
truck, I can assure you,'' said Kevin McCoy, executive director of the West
Virginia Family Foundation. "They know what they're doing. They know our
resources are limited, both in personnel and financial,'' he said. "I see
this as a way to get us off balance, to keep us from being able to organize
effectively in those counties.'' Opponents of gambling would have stood a
better chance of defeating table games if a vote had been held statewide,
McCoy said. But the bill Gov. Joe Manchin signed last week gave only voters
in Hancock, Ohio, Kanawha and Jefferson counties the right to decide whether
their racetracks should become full-blown casinos. After pushing for years
to get blackjack, poker and other games legalized, the owners of West
Virginia's tracks are eager to confront growing competition from
Pennsylvania's new slot parlors by offering something fresh. Wheeling
Island, a subsidiary of Delaware North Companies of Buffalo, N.Y., and
Mountaineer, owned by MTR Gaming Group Inc., face the most immediate
pressure. But two other tracks also stand to benefit — Tri-State Racetrack
and Gaming Center in Nitro, owned by Michigan-based Hartman & Tyner Inc.,
and the Charles Town Races & Slots, owned by Penn National Gaming Inc. of
Wyomissing, Pa. Track owners can either have the question placed on a 2008
primary or general election ballot or seek a special election this year at
their own expense. Election costs range from $30,000 to $250,000, according
to clerks in the host counties.
Only Charles Town, which has a healthier economy, a booming population and
no immediate threat of competition, has yet to set a date for a vote. John
Finamore, vice president of regional operations for Penn National, could not
immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
But Daniel Adkins, vice president of Tri-State's parent company, said the
three tracks that are moving quickly all "just want to go sooner rather than
Though there have been no formal discussions yet, he said it's likely the
tracks will find some way to pool their resources for the months ahead.
"We're right now putting the pieces together,'' Adkins said, so it will be
several more weeks before Tri-State starts to call press conferences and
Though Mountaineer has requested and will likely get a June 9 election date,
Mountaineer spokeswoman Tamara Cronin said the Hancock County Commission
won't vote on the request until April 5.
"Each county is unique as far as how they handle their elections and voters,
so I think it's an individual decision,'' she said of the simultaneous
"When it comes right down to it, this is something we're going to handle as
we do all elections here,'' she said. "All politics is local, and this is
going to be about getting to each and every voter.''
Turnout on election day will be key, and that's where the track's 1,500
employees come in.
"I believe the people who will get this passed are our employees,'' Cronin
said, "because they're the ones who are impacted.''
But the West Virginia Family Foundation is determined to stop the votes by
seeking a court-ordered injunction in one or more counties.
McCoy said he believes table games as part of the state's lottery system are
unconstitutional. The lawsuit he intends to file may also challenge gambling
on moral grounds.
"We're not going to allow a vote,'' he vowed. "We will take whatever action
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is necessary to stop it.''