By CASEY JUNKINS
The Weirton Daily Times
WHEELING, W.Va. — In 2007, officials with Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort worked hard to legalize West Virginia table gambling, even as they combined to gross more than $448 million in revenue from slot machines that year.
In fiscal year 2016, nearly a decade after the roulette wheels started spinning, the two Northern Panhandle tracks totalled only $221 million in gross revenue from both slot machines and table gambling.
To put that in perspective, The Rivers Casino in downtown Pittsburgh grossed $342.7 million by itself in fiscal 2016, with The Meadows Racetrack and Casino near Washington, Pa. grossing more than $230 million at the same time. Meanwhile, the Hollywood Casino in Columbus, Ohio, grossed $213.5 million in calendar year 2016.
None of these Pennsylvania and Ohio casinos existed when Wheeling Island and Mountaineer officials lobbied the West Virginia Legislature to allow table gambling in 2007. Therefore, the fears officials expressed at the time that they would lose substantial business to the out-of-state casinos has come to fruition.
Figures provided by the West Virginia Lottery Commission show Wheeling Island collecting about $97.1 million in total gross revenue from slot machines and table gambling — including poker, blackjack, craps, roulette and other live games — for fiscal 2016. This is actually a slight increase from the amounts the property drew in the two prior fiscal years, but is about half the $190.3 million the track collected in 2009.
This also contrasts strongly with the $199.6 million Wheeling Island grossed from running slot machines alone in fiscal 2007, as table games did not start until fiscal 2008.
Officials with Wheeling Island did not return calls seeking comment. However, the casino’s original slot machine area on the same level as the greyhound track closed a few years ago due to lack of demand.
Information provided by Reno, Nevada-based Eldorado Resorts Inc., which now owns the Mountaineer track in Chester, shows the casino’s adjusted earnings from July 1-Sept. 30 at $4 million. This compares to the $6.4 million profit the gambling center posted during the 2015 third quarter, while it is less than half the $9.1 million collected in the same period in 2014.
In addition to the aforementioned Ohio and Pennsylvania casinos, the Hollywood Gaming Mahoning Valley Race Course that opened in Youngstown, Ohio, last year also affects the Chester track.
By far, West Virginia’s most profitable track is now the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town in the Eastern Panhandle. This property, which is about a 90-minute drive from Washington, D.C., hauled in $381.8 million from slot machines and table gambling in fiscal 2016.
The Mountain State’s fourth racetrack is the Mardi Gras Casino and Resort at Nitro, which used to be known as Tri-State Racetrack. This property grossed just over $59 million in revenue from slots and table gambling in fiscal 2016.
In recent years, casino officials have lobbied the West Virginia Legislature for tax cuts and similar incentives in the face of the significant revenue declines, but without success.
Randy Burnside, spokesman for the West Virginia Lottery Commission, said gambling remains an important industry in the state. In addition to slot machines, table gambling and racing, the state also participates in instant lottery and other jackpot-type games.
“The expansion of casino gaming in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland has negatively affected our total sales over the last five years, as we projected. In fiscal year 2016, total distributions to the state were more than $501 million, compared to $565 million in fiscal year 2011,” he said.
“The gaming industry is constantly evolving and the issues facing those facilities are something that each racetrack casino’s parent company, and the state, are constantly working to combat. Each of West Virginia’s four racetrack facilities have benefited from the track capital reinvestment fund, and are first-class destination gaming facilities,” Burnside continued.
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