Latest WV Senate table game license fee bill cuts $1M from each - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Latest WV Senate table game license fee bill cuts $1M from each track

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What's good for the goose is said to be good for the gander.

Or in Senate Bill 615's latest terms, the table games license renewal fee cut that's good for the ailing Wheeling Island Casino is good for the three other tracks, too.

The bill Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, sponsored to help the Ohio County casino in his district was the subject of ire when it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The current licensing fee for table games is $2.5 million. Those fees fund in-home health services for seniors within the state.

An early version of the bill would have dropped the license fee for each of the state's four racetracks to $1.5 million. The question of how to make up that cut became contentious. Kessler's plan would have taken $3 million from the racing purse fund. He explained that table games and slot machines build the fund. Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, wanted the cut to come from the state subsidy that helps casinos purchase new slot machines. The industry objected to that cut.

More debate continued in the Senate Finance Committee, including lowering the fee only for Wheeling Island.

When the bill got to the full Senate floor for the April 2 evening session, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, explained that his committee's version of the bill was a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

Prezioso explained the many ways committee members and lottery officials tried to come up with an equitable compromise on the bill.

Representatives from Wheeling Island have said they simply cannot afford to renew their license fee at its current rate. Prezioso said the long-term effects of that license going dead would topple many dominos, from senior programs to the local community.

Prezioso said he only had 24 hours to work on the bill, and the $2.5 million license fee was determined "arbitrarily" in the first place.

Prezioso also said the Legislature has "all intentions" of completing a comprehensive study to look at how the lottery industry has changed in the past 25 years in West Virginia.

He explained that each licensing fee would be cut $1 million, and that $4 million would be taken out of their administrative lottery funds.

He said the bill would create a new lottery administrative reserve fund.

Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, spoke against that version of the bill on the Senate floor, saying it would take an extra $1 million from seniors.

Prezioso said he was not only concerned about senior programs but also other revenue-bearing accounts, and if Wheeling Island couldn't come up with $2 million for its license, it would have "far-reaching implications," including a decrease in limited video lottery and lost jobs.

"All we're trying to do is buy some time," Prezioso said.

His committee's version of the bill passed in the Senate, but with eight votes against it from Republican lawmakers. Two senators were absent during the vote: Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, and Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell.

The bill will be up for a vote in the full Senate April 3.