Neighbors Gain As W.Va. Loses

Things are looking up for most of the nation’s commercial casinos, as gambling revenue increased by nearly 5 percent to $37.3 billion last year, according to the annual survey of casinos by the American Gaming Association.

“By almost all measures, our industry is expanding and growing, which is good news for our employees and the communities where they live and work,” said Frank Fahrenkopf, the association’s president.

However, much of the profits gained in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania come from customers who are bypassing Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in West Virginia.

Revenue at Mountaineer dropped 15.8 percent in the last three months of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011. Simultaneously, Mountaineer’s parent company, MTR Gaming Group – which operates newer casinos in Ohio and Pennsylvania – saw company-wide revenue increase 12.2 percent.

At the Wheeling track, once profitable table gambling is now a liability, as officials there said the casino is on pace to lose about $1 million to run poker, craps, roulette and blackjack this year.

That projected operating loss does not include the $2.5 million annual fee Mountain State tracks must pay the West Virginia Lottery Commission in July to have the table games.

A major difference between 2012 and 2013 is that the Hollywood Casino Columbus opened in the fall, taking away some of Wheeling’s loyal customer base.

Since Mountaineer, the Wheeling Island track and West Virginia’s other two racetracks – the Mardi Gras West Virginia Casino & Hotel (formerly Tri-State Racetrack) near Charleston and the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in the Eastern Panhandle – began table gambling, both Ohio and Pennsylvania have established slot machines and table gambling.

Both Mountaineer and Wheeling traditionally have drawn large numbers of customers from Pennsylvania.

However, with the opening over the last few years of the Rivers Casino in downtown Pittsburgh, the Meadows Casino near Washington, Pa., Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Erie, Pa., and other Keystone State facilities, it is more difficult for the West Virginia tracks to gain customers from there.

“Pennsylvania has been one of the great success stories of our industry in the last few years,” Fahrenkopf said.