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Editorial: Competition means rethinking WV gaming

From The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington:

When West Virginia got into the gaming business, the state benefited greatly from the lack of gambling in neighboring states, particularly Ohio and Maryland.

But between 2012 and 2014, Ohio opened 11 casino and racino locations, including four in the northeastern part of the state that had been fertile ground for West Virginia’s casinos and racetracks in Wheeling and Chester. Then Maryland began its expansion with five locations opening since 2011.

Earlier this month, the biggest of the Maryland casinos opened in Oxen Hill, just across the Potomac River from the District of Columbia and the large population centers in Northern Virginia.

The $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor resort features a huge casino and hotel complex as well as an amusement park with an 180-foot Ferris wheel and music venues with big name performers, including Bruno Mars and Duran Duran this week.

West Virginia’s largest gaming location – the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town – had already felt the impact of the other Maryland facilities, and National Harbor will cut into that business even more. Industry analysts estimate the competition in Maryland has reduced revenues at Charles Town by 40 percent, and National Harbor could take another 10-20 percent, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported last week.

That will likely just deepen the decline in state gaming revenue and add to the state’s gloomy budget picture.

Money from slots and table games has dropped, as well the funds from the state lottery. Gross state Lottery revenue hit a peak of $1.56 billion in the 2006-07 budget year, the Gazette-Mail reported, and that fell to $1.13 billion in fiscal 2015-16.

Governor-elect Jim Justice will have his hands full when he takes office in a few weeks, but he may be in a unique position to help the state’s gaming locations find a new direction.

The state’s casinos are primarily gaming destinations, and it seems clear that the number of people traveling to the state just to gamble is on the decline. Last year, gaming accounted for only 7 percent of the overnight stays in West Virginia. But at The Greenbrier, Justice added a casino to what was already a tourist destination.

As the state works to expand its tourism base, it makes sense to rethink how gaming sites fit into that and how they can be promoted with other attractions to bring more visitors to the state.

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