Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 10, 2013

Wheeling Island will renew table game license

Associated Press

WHEELING — Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack announced Monday it will renew its table games license on July 1, reconsidering an earlier threat and saving 100 jobs for at least one year.

But President and General Osi Imomoh said the Northern Panhandle casino and greyhound track is facing “drastic declines” in revenues and still needs a long-term solution from the Legislature to make table games a profitable part of its business.

The decision to renew the license not only saves job but also prevents the loss of $2.5 million from senior programs funded through lottery revenues.

A bill to slash West Virginia’s $2.5 million table game licensing fee by $1 million died this past legislative session. Imomoh said he’s grateful that Senate President Jeff Kessler supported the bill, which would have benefited all four of the state’s racetrack casinos.

“We are confident that legislative leaders recognize this is a serious problem, and it is our hope that the issue will be studied in depth prior to the next legislative session,” Imomoh said. “A long-term solution remains our number one priority.”

Last month, the West Virginia Lottery Commission said April table games revenue at the four racetrack casinos totaled about $5 million, down 21 percent from the same month in 2012.

Racetrack slot machine revenues fell $12.4 million to $53.9 million.

West Virginia casinos have long worried about growing competition, first from Pennsylvania, then from Maryland and Ohio.

West Virginia’s tax rate on table games is 35 percent, compared with 16 percent table games tax in Pennsylvania. Ohio has a 33 percent table games tax but no annual fee.

Wheeling Island had threatened to drop table games if lawmakers didn’t reduce the annual license fee. The bill passed the Senate but died in the House, where Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley said he didn’t think it had enough votes to pass.

Legislators questioned whether Wheeling Island really needs the fee reduction, noting the Mardi Gras casino in Kanawha County made about half as much as Wheeling Island on table games but didn’t request the cut.

Wheeling Island has since asked the Lottery Commission to allow the casino to expand use of electronic table games, a decision that could be addressed at the commission’s meeting Friday.

Wheeling Island, owned by Delaware North Co., employs about 650 people. The casino has 24 table games, a nine-table poker room and more than 1,600 slot machines.

Imomoh said it gets more than 2 million visitors a year.