Table gambling at West Virginia's four racetrack casinos no longer is the cash cow it once was for either the track owners or local and state governments. But reacting to that by, in effect, throwing money on the table would be as imprudent as an impulse bet at a roulette wheel.
State government is addicted to gambling on a massive scale. Last year alone, $663 million from various legalized gambling sources went into the state budget.
But new casinos and video gambling machines in Ohio and Pennsylvania have cut deeply into the take at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort. A third casino, at Cross Lanes, has remained relatively stable. Only the relatively new casino in Charles Town is booming.
So serious has the problem become that the president and general manager of the Wheeling Island track warned table gambling now is a drain on his facility's finances. Unless the state grants some breaks on taxes and fees charged for table gambling, it may close at Wheeling Island.
That warning prompted introduction of a bill in the state Senate to grant breaks to the casinos. If enacted, it would reduce the annual permit fee each casino pays for table gambling, from the current $2.5 million down to $1 million. It would cut the tax on table gambling revenue from 35 percent to 25 percent.
To replace at least some of the lost revenue, the bill would take about $6 million a year from funds that now benefit greyhound and thoroughbred horse owners.
Before any action is taken, legislators should insist on a cost-benefit analysis. It should determine whether table gambling is needed at the casinos to draw in bettors who pour cash into video gambling machines - the real profit center ($424 million for the state in 2012).
While table gambling has suffered, revenue from racetrack video machines actually went up a bit last year. If blackjack, craps, roulette, etc., are not needed to maintain the customer base for video gambling, there is not much reason to grant the breaks.
Supporters of the idea note hundreds of people are employed by table gambling. That is true - but the state does not grant tax breaks when jobs are threatened in other industries.
Finally, it makes no sense to grant the same breaks to all four tracks. Table gambling at Charles Town remains very big business, raking in about $160 million during fiscal 2012. The other three casinos combined received less than $63 million from table gambling. Clearly, Charles Town needs no help, at least for now.
Concern about the table gambling decline at three casinos is understandable. Again, however, legislators should look closely at the situation, and act with the benefit of all West Virginians, not just those linked to gambling, in mind.