Track seeking satellite location

WHEELING – Legislation that would allow Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack to establish a second gambling location in Ohio County is out of the starting gate in Charleston.

Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, on Thursday introduced House Bill 2901, which would allow licensed casinos with dog racing to establish a secondary location for racetrack video lottery terminals and table games. The second location must be within the same county as the racetrack, according to the legislation.

Only Wheeling Island and the Mardi Gras Casino in Cross Lanes have dog racing. Both are owned by Delaware North.

Wheeling Island representatives indicate they could be looking to put a satellite facility off Interstate 70 in the area of The Highlands, which is owned by the Ohio County Development Authority.

Mardi Gras, located in Kanawha County, reportedly is looking at the Town Center Mall in downtown Charleston for a satellite facility.

The bills states if a racetrack locates its video lottery terminals outside of its municipality – for Wheeling Island, it’s the city of Wheeling — the municipality would receive the same share of tax funds up to the amount received prior to the move, meaning Wheeling would not lose any gambling revenue due to a satellite location.

The bill states that any excess revenue above what Wheeling would be guaranteed would be divided between the municipality and the “new municipality.”

John Cavacini, president of the West Virginia Racing Association, said “a situation” resulted Friday after county commissioners reviewed the legislation and didn’t see the word “county” in the bill.

“There was a misunderstanding,” he said. “The commission didn’t like it. They felt because they were not being singled out, they were being left out. If they are not mentioned, they fear the revenue split remains the same and would keep Wheeling whole.”

Cavacini said Wheeling Island has yet to decide where the potential satellite location might be located.

“No property has been bought in The Highlands, but it seems like the legitimate place for them to go,” he said.

Kim Florence, regional president and general manager of Wheeling Island, said she has worked with all stakeholders on the bill.

“I’ve worked with a lot of people on this,” she said. “I’ve worked with the city, and worked with delegates and senators.”

Florence said she also has spoken with Ohio County representatives.

“If revenues grow, they absolutely will get more money out of this,” she said. “From my perspective, they understand it.

“We have a good relationship with the county. We’ve had discussions, and when we were done they were fine with the revenue stream.”

She said the racetrack faces the ongoing challenge of flooding at the Wheeling Island property, which occurred twice in 2018.

“We are also concerned with the upcoming bridge and road construction that will take place in the next two to three years. … It will certainly impact people’s ability to visit the casino,” Florence said. “This bill could provide us with a proactive way of protecting the tax revenue that the casino produces.

“This bill is not meant to hurt our Wheeling Island business, where we have invested millions of dollars over the years in ongoing improvements to the property, including building a hotel. Instead it is meant to enhance our offerings and provide us with another opportunity to grow revenue for the state, county and city.”

Much of the revenue presently received by the city of Wheeling from gambling is allocated to firefighter and police pension funds.

Storch said the Wheeling Island representatives approached her to introduce the bill as they want to “get out in front” of expected construction along Interstate 70 in the coming years.

“So much of the traffic will be re-routed around that area of I-70,” she said. “This is an opportunity for them to pick up some new truck traffic, and bring in people from out of the area who may not even be aware of the casino. It will be another attraction at The Highlands.”

Storch said she has not worked with Wheeling or Ohio County officials directly on the legislation, but that officials from both entities “have reached out to her” on the bill.

“It was my understanding that everyone was in agreement with the arrangement,” Storch said.

Ohio County Commissioner Randy Wharton, also chairman of the Ohio County Development Authority, did not immediately return calls seeking comment Friday.

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott said he, City Manager Robert Herron and Councilman Dave Palmer met last week with track representatives to discuss a satellite location and to ensure Wheeling’s revenue stream would remain whole.

“I understand that they are particularly concerned about the impact that the Interstate 70 improvements could have on their Wheeling Island operations for several years,” Elliott said. “From the city’s perspective, we are first and foremost concerned with the impact any such secondary location might have on city finances, not to mention the prospect of opening the door for a future relocation outside of city limits. At the same time, we want to see the casino be successful.”

“The bill also includes language preventing any future relocation outside of the city. As drafted, the bill is acceptable to us. But we will obviously be watching going forward to see if and how it is amended.”

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