EDITORIAL: Gambling-friendly "Business Climate" Kills West Virginia's Cracker

HNN Staff
EDITORIAL: Gambling-friendly "Business Climate" Kills West Virginia's Cracker

Having urged West Virginia to legalize more kinds of gambling over the years, Governors Tomblin and Manchin benefited personally from having more gambling revenue come into the state's coffers. 

This allowed them to avoid having to raise taxes or cut spending, giving their popularity a nice cushion to make it through the next election cycle.

Well, this pro-gambling logic has just been turned on its head with this story from the Business Section of the the Charleston Daily Mail.   Remember that Shell cracker that Governor Tomblin told us he was lobbying so hard for, one that would bring 10,000+ jobs and all manner of new state revenue into the state? 

We lost it this week to Pennsylvania, and now we know the reason why:  the West Virginia site Shell was looking at in Chester, in the Northern Panhandle, would have required 250 additional acres for Shell to build on it.

And those acres were already spoken for by...Mountaineer Racetrack and Casino, the slot machine paradise of Hancock County.

This news is the height of irony for Earl Ray Tomblin, whose past efforts for the state's casinos ended up as the key stumbling block to getting the Shell cracker here.  

After all, Tomblin used to be in the slot machine business, back a few years ago when they were called "gray machines." Tomblin has been the lead horse for every gambling expansion measure to hit West Virginia in the past twenty years, from legalizing the slot machines and having them available in hundreds of gambling dens in our communities to making sure that the state's racetracks get as many slots and table games as they can handle.

Gambling advocates and lobbyists are Tomblin's best friends in Charleston.  Frankly, they are his chief constituency.  They socialize together, think of new ways to expand gambling, and pick off new friends, even among Republican ranks now and then, convincing them that gambling enterprises are legitimate forms of business.

But Tomblin's past activities in gambling and its advocacy statewide did him in as the state's advocate for landing the Shell cracker facility.  Tomblin the Governor was done in by Tomblin the Past Gambling Advocate--and West Virginia lost and will continue to lose such opportunities if gambling remains our fastest growing "business." 

Think of the irony:  When Tomblin went down to Houston to cultivate the Shell executives, little did those folks know that they were also talking to the former Logan County Slot Machine King who had helped make Mountaineer Racetrack and Casino such a large power player with literally thousands of slots.

As a result, nothing, not even a cracker worth 10,000 great jobs could apparently persuade Mountaineer to sell even a portion of the land the cracker needed.

Tomblin and Joe Manchin worked hard together for their mutual gambling friends when Tomblin was still Senate President and Manchin was Governor.  Manchin was not about to get left behind in the great chase for gambling contributions, securing serious gambling donations in his statewide campaigns. 

So gambling advocacy was part of the continuity between the two Administrations.  Both Governors have defended gambling as a legitimate form of business.

Tell that to the Northern Panhandle workers who wanted the kind of job they can send their kids to college on instead of selling drinks to the slots zombies.  West Virginians want real jobs, like the ones  Shell will provide at their cracker in Pennsylvania, not minimum wage and tips.  That's not economic development. That's a summer job for some college student in Vegas.

The truth is that the vast majority of West Virginians in both parties would much rather work at a Shell cracker facility than at a local casino.  For one thing, the salaries are twice as big, with significant benefits. Also important is the sense of knowing that you've contributed to society a serious and needed energy product to consumers nationwide and not just ripped off another sucker.

W.C. Fields was famous for his phrase that "There's a sucker born every minute."  Tomblin and Manchin have played us for suckers long enough.  Now, their abiding advocacy for the casinos has lost us 10,000 good-paying jobs.  Yet they still point to the casinos as their unique economic development contribution. 

There comes a tipping point where the incompetence of our leaders finally hits the brick wall of the voters' outrage.  With blunders like the lost Shell cracker, Tomblin and Manchin increasingly appear as though they're going to meet that wall in this November's election.



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