Double-down on table games?

As the Mountain State’s existing casinos find themselves struggling with declining revenue, does it make sense for lawmakers in Charleston to OK a new casino in rural Pendleton County?

This week brings the debut of the $500 million Maryland Live! Casino at the Arundel Mills Mall in Hanover, so declining casino revenues represent a problem likely to get worse for the Mountain State, not better.

It’s not as if the Capitol isn’t full of evidence of the industry’s struggles. At the same time a West Virginia House committee advanced the Pendleton County proposal, House members declined consideration of a Senate bill that would have lowered the fees paid by West Virginia’s four existing casinos.

Leaders at Wheeling Island casino had asked for the fee reduction, saying they could not afford a table gaming license and would have to drop table games.

Thanks to growing competition from neighboring states, revenue at West Virginia’s four racetrack-casinos is expected to be at least $200 million lower this fiscal year than in 2012.

The bill already passed in the Senate but it remains unclear whether it will win the backing of the House before the session’s end at midnight Saturday.

The idea is not completely lacking in logic. Backers say the rural casino in Franklin would attract gamblers from Virginia, one of just a handful of states without any land-based casinos.

Many believe that luring Virginians also represents the best hope for Charles Town’s future as a gambling mecca. With Maryland Live! likely to siphon off a significant portion of gaming lovers who long have trekked here from Baltimore and other parts of the Free State, Virginians coming here from the opposite direction could be a saving grace for the casino.

But we continue to question the underlying presumption that the gaming industry represents a path to quick and easy prosperity for West Virginia. Better for West Virginia to create a sound economic development plan and to stop handing out sweetheart deals such as the one described last month by Eric Eyre of The Charleston Gazette.

“West Virginia government officials used tens of millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds to help Frontier Communications build a fragmented high-speed Internet network across the state that solely benefits Frontier, according to a consultant hired by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s administration.

“The consulting firm, Vienna, Va.-based ICF International, found that West Virginia’s $126.3 million statewide broadband expansion project has created an ‘unintended monopoly’ and [an] ‘unusable network except for Frontier.’ ”

Just a month earlier, a report issued by the West Virginia Legislative Auditor found the state wasted millions in federal grant money three years ago when it purchased 1,164 Cisco routers – the majority of which were far larger than what the state agencies using them required.

Wasting millions in Charleston on wrongheaded spending and then hoping against hope that we can draw in Virginians with more table games isn’t a blueprint for a stronger economy.

As Republican Delegate Woody Ireland of Ritchie County noted during last week’s debate over the Pendleton facility: “When we base our economy on the gambling industry, we’re basing our economy on soft and shifting sands.”


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