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Table games licensing fee cut stuck

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Senate Finance Committee members addressed two bills dealing with casino gambling Monday -- but not a proposal to reduce the table game licensing fee for the state's four racetrack-casinos.

That bill (SB615) -- which would lower the fee from $2.5 million a year to as little as $1.5 million -- was extensively amended in the Senate Judiciary Committee and would need to advance from the Finance Committee by Tuesday to have any chance of passage this session.

Management of the Wheeling Island casino -- hard hit by competition from casinos in nearby Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio -- has indicated it will not renew its table games license July 1 at the current fee.

Committee members did advance a bill to authorize a sixth casino in the state, at a "rural resort community" in a county with less than 10,000 population (SB492). Although envisioned by sponsors to apply to Fisher Mountain Resort, near Franklin, Pendleton County, committee members approved amendments by Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, that could allow other locations to seek the casino license.

The committee also advanced a bill updating terms in video slots definitions (SB478). That bill applies to the same section of state law as SB615, but committee members did not attempt to amend that bill into it.

Also Monday, the Finance Committee advanced bills to:

  • Lower the employee contribution rate for the Judicial Retirement System from 10.5 percent to 7 percent (SB403), over objections from Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, who said it would amount to a pay raise for participating circuit judges.
  • "If we pass this bill, in essence, this is the only group this year that gets an increase in take-home pay," said Unger, who said the reduced pension contribution would be worth $4,100 a year to each judge.

    State Supreme Court administrator Steve Canterbury said former Gov. Joe Manchin's administration imposed the higher contribution rates, and said that between the higher contribution and strong investment earnings, the pension fund is currently fully funded for at least the next two decades.

  • Lower the population threshold for upper-tier magistrate courts from counties with populations of 8,400 or more to 7,300 or more (SB378).
  • Because of population declines, four counties -- Lewis, McDowell, Wetzel and Wyoming -- dropped to the lower tier, reducing magistrate salaries in those counties from $57,500 to $51,125, along with comparable cuts in staff salaries.

    The bill would move those four counties back to the upper tier, and add Barbour and Roane counties, at a total annual cost of $250,000.

    Earlier this session, the House passed a controversial measure to move all magistrate salaries up to the upper tier, at a total cost for magistrates and staff of $737,000 a year (HB2434), but Senate leadership showed no interest in pursuing that bill.

  • Make revisions requested by the Tomblin administration to update state purchasing regulations (SB363). The bill would set up a state purchasing task force to review regulations, require department heads to participate in annual training on purchasing regulations, and prohibit secondary bids.
  • Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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