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Tracks Have ‘Exciting’ First Weekend of Poker

October 23, 2007
WHEELING — Robert Marshall — the president and general manager at Wheeling Island Racetrack and Gaming Center — has worked at casinos in Atlantic City, so the sounds of cards being shuffled and chips hitting the table are familiar to him.

He heard them again this past weekend as the Island track opened its poker room. Poker operations at both the Wheeling Island track and the Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort began Friday, and both tracks report having successful weekends.

Seats in the poker rooms were filled to capacity until at least 5 a.m. Sunday, and even then the rooms remained largely filled, officials said.

“It was a great weekend,” Marshall said. “There was a lot of excitement in the air. There were a lot of folks I’ve never seen before. It really feels like a casino.”

He added that from an operations standpoint, the opening went “very well.”

“It was pretty much flawless,” Marshall said. “This team did a great job. We were impressed with the capability of the young dealers.”

Neither Marshall nor Mountaineer track officials would say just how much revenue was taken in over the weekend, but West Virginia’s state coffers are awaiting their take.

The tracks are responsible for paying the state taxes equaling 35 percent of their gross revenue.

Tamara Pettit, spokeswoman at the Mountaineer track, said she became aware of just how many people were coming to the track when she left for home at about 7:30 p.m. Saturday night.

“I noticed there was traffic — a constant stream to Newell and Chester,” she said. “It was indicative of the 1980s and 1970s, when there was racetrack traffic at the time of day when the races started. But this was a steady stream.”

Pettit added there was “a good, consistent crowd” throughout the weekend in the poker room at the Mountaineer track, and that officials were pleasantly surprised.

“We have done no advertising to date, “ she said. “We waited until we got the go-ahead from the State Lottery Commission.

“We’ve had no major problems,” she added. “Everything went very well, without any glitches. It is a nice atmosphere there, and the dealer training has very much paid off for them.”

While the weekend turnout for those playing their first hand of poker at Wheeling Island was encouraging to officials, Marshall said the week started there with open poker tables ready to serve guests.

“Even during our very busy opening this weekend, guests only experienced a 45-minute wait time,î he said. “We are confident players will be able to be accommodated throughout the gaming day at Wheeling Island.”

Both racetracks hope to add blackjack and roulette games in January.

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