Wednesday, April 24, 2013

So is Wheeling Island dropping table games or what?

Rumors have been floating around since last year that poker and, quite possibly, table games as a whole were on there way out at Wheeling Island. It was mostly just player-to-player chatter, with nothing being made official until the Wheeling Intelligencer newspaper reported last month that the casino was on pace to lose $1 million on table games in 2013.

That article quoted Wheeling Island president and general manager Jim Simms as saying, "The competition we are now facing from both Ohio and Pennsylvania -- combined with the fact that table games are a very labor intensive venture -- is making our situation very difficult."

West Virginia was the first of the three states to approve casino table gaming but has watched their player pool shrink dramatically as its neighboring states eventually legalized poker, blackjack, etc. The casino opened a 20-table poker room in late 2007, though it eventually dropped to nine tables before being shuttered and relaunched last year in a smaller location off the main casino floor.

Aside from dwindling players, another concern is the money the casino has to pay to the state for the mere privilege of operating table games, which consists of a $2.5 million annual fee as well as a 35 percent tax rate. (Ohio's tax rate on table games is 33 percent, while Pennsylvania's will soon drop to only 12 percent.)

According to this WV MetroNews article from a few weeks back, a recent Senate bill was proposed that would have shrunk the annual fee to $1.5 million, providing some relief, but the state legislature ultimately failed to pass it. Unless the state comes up with an alternative for reducing table-game fees, Simms is making it sound like Wheeling Island could decide to pull the plug when the casino's license expires in July.

“We’ve got to stop and do the math on this," he told the MetroNews. "Look at the trend of the revenue declines. Look at what kind of losses we would incur moving forward to see what the tolerance level would be. And then assess what the overall business model would look like with or without (table games)."

Now these could be merely threats to try to urge the state to give them a sweeter deal, but if the $1 million is losses does prove to be accurate, it's hard to imagine giving up on table games isn't at least being considered (especially poker, which is typically a low-earner for casinos). Wheeling Island was profitable as a racetrack and slots parlor before table games came along and would likely continue to be if they went back to that setup. But it would mean one less poker room for area players, even if it's one that many of us don't play in anymore.

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