Tom Miller: Ohio, Maryland casinos threaten state's revenues
This state's gravy train of legalized gambling revenue is about to be derailed by surrounding states seeking a share of this easy money. So it's no surprise that the state Lottery Commission approved a new policy last week to allow the use of the casino at The Greenbrier by people who book one-day bus trips to this famous resort.
State lottery revenues for October were more than $105 million, exceeding estimates by $3 million. Total revenues from the state lottery commission for the first four months of the 2012-2013 fiscal year -- July 1 to Oct. 31 -- were nearly $449 million, which was $55 million more than predicted.
But Lottery Director John Musgrave said last week that West Virginia is "already seeing the impact of Ohio and Maryland on our revenue stream." This state's collections from its racetrack casinos has been exceeding expectations in recent months because Ohio casino openings in Columbus and Cleveland were delayed.
But that's no longer the case and the other bad news was the action by Maryland voters on Nov. 6 to approve a ballot initiative legalizing table games and new casino construction in that state. Maryland casinos already have video lottery machines but without table games, that state found it was difficult to compete with West Virginia's Charles Town Hollywood Casino near the Maryland border.
This development obviously helped convince this state's Lottery Commission to approve a new policy last week that allows people who are not overnight guests at The Greenbrier to be admitted to the resort's casino. It still retains the requirement that The Greenbrier must have at least 400 rooms booked on any day to allow anyone except hotel guests and members of sporting clubs to use the casino.
But there have been some reports that management at The Greenbrier might even house employees in some of the rooms overnight free of charge to meet this requirement. So that shouldn't be a problem. But increased gambling revenue at The Greenbrier is not likely to compensate for the drop in overall gambling profits for West Virginia.
The Charles Town casino has a record of pulling in more revenue than all the other state casinos combined and at least one-third of its customers come from nearby Maryland. The expected drop in Maryland customers at the Charles Town location -- once Maryland completes its new casino construction -- could cost West Virginia as much as $1 billion, according to some estimates.
Musgrave said West Virginia should start seeing the impact within six months because it will take that long to get dealers trained and get the gambling tables set up at the Maryland casinos.
State lottery commissioners here in West Virginia have not yet decided whether or not to raise the limit on personal checks cashed at the state's five casinos from the current maximum of $200 to $10,000 after one of the members objected to that move. But that apparently would only apply at The Greenbrier if it is ultimately approved. Deputy Director David Bradley said the state's largest casino at Charles Town has requested a $2,000 limit.
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The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals decided last week that current state law does not give surface landowners the right to appeal when oil and gas drilling permits are issued for their land. But the five-member court did say it "urges the Legislature to re-examine this issue and consider whether surface owners should be afforded an administrative appeal" with the extensive development of the Marcellus Shale in the state.
The 2012 Legislature considered this issue and decided not to provide surface owners with the right of appeal. Secretary Randy Huffman of the Department of Environmental Protection,said he doesn't have an official position on whether lawmakers should give surface owners permit appeal rights.
As you might expect, Corky DeMarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, has made it clear his members doesn't support a change in the current state law. He notes that this issue has been before the Legislature before and "it didn't go very far."
But Dave McMahon, a lawyer who represents the West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Organization, points out that the Supreme Court chose not to take up the related issue of whether surface landowners have a constitutional right to a preapproval hearing on drilling permits. He said surface owners are "very disappointed" and will not give up on this issue.
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U. S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has announced she will run for the U.S. Senate in 2014 after seven, two-year terms as a member of the House of Representatives in Washington. She will be seeking the Senate seat now held by U. S. Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller, D-W.Va. The last Republicans to represent West Virginia in the U. S. Senate were Chapman Rivercomb and John D. Hoblitzell Jr. more than half a century ago.
Rockefeller has not yet indicated whether he will run for another six-year term. He has held that seat since 1984 but he will be 77 years old in June 2014 and might decide to retire after 30 years in Washington. For now, though, his position is that "politics can wait" while he and the other members of Congress focus on the critical budget issues facing Congress in the next few weeks.
Tom Miller is a retired state government reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He is a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch opinion page.
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