Table games vote slated Dec. 5
Early voting on Charles Town Races & Slots’ proposal to expand gambling started Nov. 13 at the Jefferson County Courthouse and continues through Dec. 2 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The referendum is Saturday, Dec. 5.
Jefferson County voters defeated table games by a vote of 5,650 to 4,445 in June 2007. A new gambling bill passed by the state Legislature calls for more funds to be distributed to local schools and for new monies to be allocated to municipalities within Jefferson County.
CTRS has more than 5,000 slot machines along with live and simulcast horse racing. It has hosted live thoroughbred racing since 1933, and began offering gaming to visitors in 1997. CTRS claims 4 million visitors each year.
According to the West Virginia Lottery Commission, Jefferson County Schools stand to gain $4 million annually from CTRS under the new funding formula passed by the Legislature.
The money could be used for capital expenditures.
Board of Education member Alan Sturm of Shepherdstown the board may be able to use the money on a variety of “capital expenditures,” depending on how the term is defined. Building construction, maintenance and even computer purchases could apply.
“It can be interpreted broadly,” Sturm said, conceding it could not be used for teacher salaries or “consumables.” Jefferson County Schools’ total annual budget is $85 million. With $4 million in additional funds for capital expenditures, monies now budgeted for buildings and maintenance could be freed for other purposes.
Yet Sturm noted that the Board’s endorsement of table games is in no way a mandate to teachers to vote for the measure; it’s simply the board taking a stance, he stressed.
“As a board member, I’m looking at it strictly from a fiscal point of view,” Sturm said. “And I see nothing but benefits for the county.”
CTRS mounted an extensive ad campaign soon after the 2007 defeat and has gained endorsements for the measure from the Jefferson County Board of Education, commerce groups, horse industry organizations and local governments.
But not everyone is convinced table games are the best thing for Jefferson County.
The Rev. Douglas Fraim, of the Boliver Charge of the United Methodist Church, said the Jefferson County School Board’s endorsement of table games as a capital expenditure funding tool sends a bad message to young people.
Fraim is president of Vote No Table Games, which has set up headquarters at 115 W. Washington St. in Charles Town. Members of the group – which includes teachers and horsemen – believe the track reaps the lion’s share of the benefits.
Fraim said the track’s claim that 500 good-paying jobs will come with the passage of table games is questionable. He figures most of the service industry work will be low-paying and reliant on tips. And Vote No Table Games has serious doubts about the ability of gambling to bolster the local economy. “They come here for one reason, and that’s to lose their money,” Fraim said of those who visit Charles Town from outside the area to gamble. “They’re not going to be out in the community. The ones who are really big spenders will stay there for free, eat free and drink free.”
Fraim said gambling expansion invites addiction and financial ruin for families.
The fight against table games is a much bigger challenge for Vote No than two years ago because of the large scope of the CTRS advertising campaign and the various endorsements from the school leaders and other groups, Fraim said. He frowns upon state and local governments’ increasing dependancy on gambling.
“We’re teaching our young children that it’s okay to learn gambling,” Fraim said, referencing the Biblical passage from Mark “… what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
The group has set up a Web site (www.VoteNoTableGames.org) and has mounted its “Table Games Facts Presentation” sign five doors down from the post office. The presentation takes only a few minutes and the doors are open from 3 to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. until noon on Saturdays.