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Editorial: W.Va. feels gambling pressure all around

Mar. 01, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

This week, cocktail waitresses and blackjack dealers were learning the ropes in Cincinnati, as Ohio's newest casino complex went through a dress rehearsal for its planned opening next week.

The $400 million Horsehoe Casino is the state's fourth casino approved by voters in 2009 -- operations in Toledo, Columbus and Cleveland opened last year. Already the other three casinos have earned just under $404 million and generated about $133 million in taxes for schools, counties and cities.

The Horseshoe, with 2,000 slot machines and 87 table games, is expected to help boost yearly revenues for the four casinos to close to $1 billion. After years of watching gambling dollars leave Ohio for casinos in bordering states, officials there have every right to be excited.

But the opening of the Cincinnati casino serves as a reminder that increased competition will likely affect gambling revenues in other states.

West Virginia, in particular, has seen revenues decline over the past year as the Ohio casinos have come on line, along with more gambling options in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

So far this year, West Virginia's Lottery Commission has seen about a 6.3 percent overall decline in revenue from the previous year. Scratch and online lottery games have remained steady, but racetrack video lottery revenues are down about 13 percent and table games are down around 5 percent, according to a report in the Charleston Gazette.

That translates into about $18 million less for the state. Officials are hopeful that they will not see further declines, and a better economy could improve the picture. But in addition to casinos coming on line in Ohio, Maryland voters approved table games last November, and gambling sites there are expected to add blackjack, craps, roulette and other games this spring. That change could have a big effect on West Virginia's popular casino and racetrack in Charles Town.

State officials will certainly be watching for the impact, because when it comes to states that rely on gambling revenue, West Virginia is near the top of the list.

A study by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute on Government shows Nevada at No. 1, with 12.5 percent of state revenues coming from gambling, but Rhode Island and West Virginia were tied for No. 2 at 8.4 percent each.

As competition continues to grow, it looks like that will be difficult to sustain.

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