Tomblin to Decide Fate of $100 Million Giveaway to State's Casinos

HNN Staff

Senate Bill 550, which passed during the recent session of the West Virginia legislature, established the Licensed Racetrack Modernization Fund and provides as much as $100 million in taxpayers' dollars directly to West Virginia gaming companies.  

GOP State Chair Mike Stuart has been a leading critic of this piece of legislation.

"It is pure unadulterated highway robbery. The Democrats $100 million taxpayer giveaway to private companies in the gaming industry is not only outrageous but it may be the closest thing to legalized robbery that the Legislature has ever passed," said Stuart. “Not even Billy the Kid could have dreamed up such a scheme.  There is no question that the bill should be vetoed.  There is no need to back up the cash trucks to the backdoor when the Legislature is allowing you in the front.”

“West Virginia families are struggling to get by in this tough economy – losing jobs, homes, and fearful of the future,” continued Stuart.  “How can the Democrats justify giving a $100 million dollar check to big multi-national corporations that are almost entirely owned by out of state stockholders when West Virginia companies like Blenko Glass, Flowers Baking Company, and WV Steel are closing or struggling just to keep the doors open?  Where are their subsidies?  Profitable billion dollar corporations are being given $100 million from the Legislature yet companies located and based in West Virginia with owners, stockholders and investors from the state cannot survive.”

“Every company needs to compete but private companies should compete with their money – not ours," said Stuart.  "We are opposed to giving $100 million of taxpayer money to any profitable company – gambling or otherwise.”

West Virginia casino owners suggest that these subsidies are needed to keep up with out of state competitors.  But Stuart noted that, sometimes, that competition is simply a casino owned by the same company that owns West Virginia casinos.  Penn National owns both the Charles Town casino and a Pennsylvania casino that could be construed to be a rival.

"Penn National is the competition," said Stuart.  "They are a $2.5 billion dollar company with gaming operations across the country and now we are asked to subsidize their operations here in West Virginia because of competition they own and created.  How dumb do they think we are?”

Acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin's past experience with the state's gambling industry runs deep.  For several years, Tomblin owned Southern Amusements, a "gray machine" supplier to local establishments in southern West Virginia.   Tomblin ran this business before the gray machines were legalized, then sold it to former Delegate Joe C. Ferrell, who was later indicted in a 48-count judgment on federal charges related to illegal gambling, racketeering, bribery, and mail fraud.

Moreover, Tomblin has long been criticized for his mother's greyhound kennel receiving dog breeding contracts from the state's racetracks worth hundreds of thousands of dollars during his time in the State Senate.

Tomblin has long been considered one of the gambling industry's best friends in the legislature.  Indeed, some of the industry's chief lobbyists are among Tomblin's top advisors in his bid for the Democratic nomination for Governor this year.  Recently, Tomblin campaign meetings have included lobbyists associated with the gambling industry like Nelson Robinson, John Cavacini, and Richard Stevens.

Also, State Democratic Chair Larry Puccio left his job as then Governor Manchin's Chief of Staff and the next day became the lobbyist for Charles Town Races and slots.  Puccio is also a lobbyist for the Greenbrier Resort, which received $1 million in state funds despite the legislature's objections.

Despite the fact that the gambling industry has made so many inroads into the upper reaches of the state's Democratic Party, Stuart says that Tomblin could still surprise and veto this piece of legislation.

“If Tomblin signs the bill, he owns the giveaway,” said Stuart.  “Tomblin can stop this $100 million robbery with a mere pen and the word “Veto”.”



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