The training is happening right now at the Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort in Chester, said John Melton, attorney for the state Lottery Commission.
He added there are 21 people in the class seeking to be regulators, and they come from the West Virginia State Police, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department and the Wheeling Police Department. Some state employees who will be working with table gambling are also taking part.
The training is being conducted by consultants from Atlantic Cape Community College in Atlantic City, N.J., according to Melton.
He said 15 regulators will be hired for each of West Virginia’s three racetracks where table gambling has been approved by local voters — Mountaineer, Wheeling Island Racetrack and Gaming Center, and Charles Town Races and Slots. Of this number, 12 will work in security and surveillance disciplines, while the others will be designated as auditors.
Officials at both Mountaineer and at the Wheeling Island racetrack had hoped to go online with poker games by Nov. 1; they planned to start roulette, blackjack and other games soon after. Melton said the regulators likely will be ready for poker games by Nov. 1.
“The two tracks will start with poker games,” he said. “In the industry, there are ‘poker games’ and there are ‘house games.’”
In poker, the gamblers are playing against each other with a dealer and cards provided by the track, Melton said. This is in contrast to the house games, where the gamblers are playing against the house.
As such, not as much surveillance training is needed for the poker games, and the regulators will be ready sooner.
“With poker, we don’t have nearly the level of concern about where the state’s money is coming from,” Melton added. “We’re only concerned that the players are playing fair with each other.”
Renovations and hirings are happening at each track in preparation for table gambling.
Kim Florence, spokeswoman at Wheeling Island’s racetrack, said the facility will be ready for table gambling on Nov. 1 if it gets the go-ahead from the state Lottery Commission.
The track hopes to offer other games beginning Jan. 1, she added.
The poker room in the basement at the track is nearly done, with only the gambling tables still to be placed, according to Florence. Meanwhile, the upper level is being redesigned to accommodate roulette and black jack tables. The area just off the escalator is presently closed to guests as contractors complete the renovations.
“Construction is on schedule, and we have already begun hiring people,” Florence said. “We will have plenty of people.”
She estimates the track has hired between 100 and 150 new employees to serve as dealers for table games.
“But we are going to need 350 total,” Florence added. “Some will go toward the later opening.
“We’re just excited, and it’s an exciting time for us. It’s something we’ve been looking to start for a long time,” she said. “Knowing that Pennsylvania was going online soon with their slots, we knew that would hurt us. We’ve worked hard to get to the level we’re at now.”
Tamara Cronin, spokeswoman at the Mountaineer track, said officials there aren’t certain how soon they will be able to offer poker games, but the target date remains Nov. 1. They also are awaiting official word from the state Lottery Commission.
Photos by Scott McCloskey
Kim Florence, spokeswoman for Wheeling Island Racetrack & Gaming Center, stands in front of the newly constructed poker room, which is located in the track’s lower level.