WHEELING - Through the first eight months of the current fiscal year, Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack has generated $5.3 million in gross table gambling revenue - a pace that has the casino set to bring in $4 million less than it did in fiscal 2012.
During the same time period, July 1, 2012, through the end of February, the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle generated $104.7 million in gross table gambling revenue.
According to current West Virginia law, both the Wheeling facility and the Charles Town track will pay the same $2.5 million annual fee to the West Virginia Lottery Commission by July 13 for the right to continue offering poker, blackjack, roulette, craps and other table games.
Photo by Casey Junkins
As Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack struggles to find players for its blackjack tables, the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in the Eastern Panhandle is not having as much trouble.
They are also taxed at the same 35 percent clip.
Wheeling Island President and General Manager Jim Simms, who will soon leave to open a new casino near Cincinnati, said his company may not renew its table gambling license if the $2.5 million fee is not adjusted in some way.
He said the Wheeling facility is on pace to run its tables at a $1 million operating loss in 2013, emphasizing the endeavor's "labor intensive" nature.
The $10 million generated by the table gambling fees applied to West Virginia's four racetracks - Wheeling Island, Charles Town, Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in Chester and the Mardi Gras West Virginia Casino & Hotel near Charleston - is used for senior citizen health care, a funding source state Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said must remain in place.
Simms said there are now 105 Wheeling Island employees whose jobs are directly connected to table gambling. The number of employees has declined during the past few years in response to a drop in business.
The recent opening of the Hollywood Casino in Columbus has been particularly damaging to Wheeling Island, Simms said, as much of the facility's customer base during the past few years has come from central Ohio.
Information Simms provided shows that through the first two months of 2012, the Wheeling track lost $3,365 on table gambling.
For the first two months of this year, after the Columbus casino opened, the Wheeling loss is $171,407.
Mountaineer also has been experiencing a decline in table gambling revenue. Casino spokeswoman Lesley Campbell said her company had no comment on the issues raised by Simms.
Statistics provided by the West Virginia Lottery Commission show the vast majority of table gambling revenue generated in West Virginia now comes from the Charles Town track. The numbers also show that Wheeling Island and Mountaineer have taken hits from the opening of the Ohio and Pennsylvania casinos. According to the West Virginia Lottery Commission, the four casinos reported gross table gambling revenue as follows:
From July 1 through the end of February:
For the week of Feb. 23, the last full week for which statistics are available:
For the comparable week of Feb. 25, 2012:
For Fiscal Year 2012 (July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012):
The table gambling revenue streams are separate to those for slot machines, which are generally significantly higher for the casinos.
Possible Solutions for Wheeling
West Virginia taxes table gambling at 35 percent. Ohio taxes at 33 percent while Pennsylvania taxes its games at no more than 16 percent.
State Sen. Rocky Fitzsimmons, D-Ohio, and Sen. Jack Yost, D-Brooke, have co-sponsored a bill that would reduce the table gambling tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, and reduce the annual fee paid by each track from $2.5 million to $1 million. The $6 million taken from senior citizen health care would be replaced by money taken from the greyhound and thoroughbred purse funds and breeders' funds generated at the four racetracks.
Delegate Ryan Ferns, D-Ohio, said the Wheeling track had no competition when the original rules were implemented, so he believes the taxes and fees should be considered in the current environment.
Kessler was a strong advocate for the passage of table gambling in 2007 as a means to create new jobs and revenue in the state. He said he is open to a discussion on applying the licensing fee in a manner that would be based on how much business a particular track is doing.
For slot machines, Pennsylvania taxes at a 55 percent clip, while Ohio levies the same 33 percent rate it does for tables. West Virginia charges about a 42 percent tax for slot machines, though Simms said the "effective slot tax rates" for Wheeling Island are about 57 percent for slots because of purse funds, breeders funds and local supplements.
The West Virginia Legislature ends its session at midnight April 13.