Legislation authorizing table games at West Virginia's four racetracks could be ready for introduction by the end of next week.
John Cavacini, head of the West Virginia Racing Association, said a bill permitting Ohio
, Han****, Kanawha and Jefferson counties to have local option elections on table games is almost ready.
"I think that we've sent the message very clearly that we want to deal with the issue and put it behind us," said House Majority Leader Joe DeLong, D-Han****.
Cavacini said racing association members are still meeting with lawmakers, soliciting suggestions and ironing out the wrinkles.
"We've got several people who are willing to sponsor it," Cavicini said. "We have people in mind and people have agreed to do it."
The bill the association is drafting will be nearly identical to the last two that failed, Cavacini said.
The state's cut of the revenue generated from table games would still be at 12 percent, though lawmakers through amendment have nearly doubled that part of the bill in the past.
This year, Cavacini said there would be a new provision allowing counties after five years to rescind their approval if table games weren't working out.
The five years would at least give racetracks time to get the games up and running, Cavacini said.
Cavacini feels this will be the bill's year because it's not only the two racetracks in the Northern Panhandle that are pushing hard for it.
has already authorized 61,000 slot machines that will go on line this year. Now there are hints that more competition may be coming in the future from Maryland and Kentucky.
This has brought the racetracks in Cross Lanes and Charles Town on board.
"I think this gets down to a jobs bill and a revenue bill and having all four tracks on board obviously brings in various sections of the state," Cavacini said. "It builds a bigger base."
Tamara Cronin, spokeswoman for Mountaineer Racetrack in Chester, said Northern Panhandle voter support for table games is strong and believes the issue will pass there.
Cronin cited a 7.3 percent unemployment rate in Han**** County, where the track is located. Table games would create up to 450 good jobs, she said.
West Virginia Northern Community College is already working on a plan to offer training for table games jobs, like card dealing, Cronin said.
"We've now become a key industry for Han**** County," Cronin said.
"With Weirton Steel once having 13,000 workers and now down to about 1,000, we've been the growth industry in our county."
Fiscal notes connected with the failed bill last year said 50 new jobs would be created within the state Lottery Commission to oversee the table games.
Most of the jobs would be for inspectors and accountants, some of whom would be located at the racetracks.
John Melton, an attorney with the commission, said officials are "still sharpening their pencils" on the financial notes for the new bill.
Those connected with last year's bill estimated annual revenues from table gaming at over $50 million once they are up and running.
Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson, said he believes the most vigorous debate among lawmakers will focus on how to use the state's share of the revenues generated by table games.
Yoder has introduced a resolution that would restrict gambling expansion to Kanawha, Jefferson, Han**** and Ohio counties -- where the racetracks are -- and devote excess revenues to reducing the state's gas tax and maintaining its roads.
Yoder said the purpose of his resolution is to put money into taking care of issues that improve the state's economy "so at some point when the revenue goes away we have something to show for it."
DeLong said he believes the revenue should go towards reducing state debt. Senate Minority Leader Don Caruth, R-Mercer, has said he'd like to see it used to help counties struggling to pay regional jail fees.