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The Casino Table Games Issue in Jefferson County

More than 2 years after citizens of Jefferson County dismissed the proposal to permit casino table games at Charles Town Races and Slots, voters will again decide on the proposal in a special election on December 5th, 2009.

As of December 2nd, 2009, more than 3,500 voters had cast their votes through the early voting period, according to the county's chief deputy clerk of elections, Nikki Painter. Painter said that they had a lot of interest in early voting as the election got closer. She said that they had more than four hundred voters on Mondays and even more on Tuesday.

Early voting started on November 13th, 2009 and concluded at 5:00 p.m. on December 2nd, 2009. On December 5th, 2009, the polls will open from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. Jefferson County has thirty-three thousand voters on its records. The cost associated with holding the special election-about $80,000 - is being paid by the Charles Town Races and Slots.

The business also picked the date of the special election for the casino table games. In 2007, Jefferson County voters dismissed a plan to add casino table games at the racing track by a margin of 5,650 to 4,445. Earlier that year, West Virginia lawmakers approved casino table games at four horse racing track casinos in Kanawha, Jefferson, Hancock and Ohio counties, providing that the measures won the approval of the residents.

This time around, the racing track's "Vote Yes for Jefferson County" campaign featured voters who opposed offering casino table games like blackjack in 2007 but now support the move. The online site features portraits of farmer Cam Tabb, horse trainer Eddie Householder and other residents alongside quotes in which they explain why they now support the drive for casino table games.

The residents' explanation for supporting the casino table games proposal include a desire to bring jobs that offer good salary to the county and to stay on even ground with neighboring states like Maryland, where a movement is underway to introduce casino tables games on the state.

Charles Town, which has offered horse racing since 1930's, was acquired in 1997 by Penn National Gaming Incorporated and introduced gaming later that year. It now offers more than five thousand slot machines and each year the establishments is said to attract around four million visitors. Majority of those visitors came from Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, cities only about ninety minutes away.

Some of those who opposed the casino tables games in 2007 but now support the proposal cites to a gambling proposal approved by the Legislature this year stating that more proceeds will be given to local schools and municipalities. In October 2009, the Jefferson County Board of Education formally voiced their support to the casino table games proposal.

The Reverend Douglas Fraim said that he finds the school system's support of the casino table games proposal surprising. Fraim, who heads an opposition group that voices it views on the said that the school board is promising additional pay if the casino table games proposal passes and to him that is just equivalent to buying votes.

Charles Town Races and Slots officials said that passage of the casino table games proposal will bring an additional income of $4 million to local schools and will improve salaries for all school employees. Al Britton, the general manager of Charles Town Races and Slots said that the promise of five hundred new employment opportunities is another reason why the table games proposal has been endorsed by individuals and groups that opposed it in 2007.

Britton said that the economic landscape is a whole different now compared two years ago. He said that last time around, the unemployment rate was very low in Jefferson County but now the thought of adding a lot of good paying jobs has gotten a lot of attention.

Britton also said that his establishment has done a better job since 2007 of outlining the positive effects of adding casino table games although Britton did not know how much the group had spent on advertising efforts. Britton said that they want voters to be well informed. He said that there is no saying how the vote will go but they think that an informed voters is going to see how good the proposal will be for Jefferson County and want to vote in favor of the proposal.


Tuesday, March 09 , 2010
Kim Watson