Businesses want piece of the action

WHEELING — West Virginia bar owners want a piece of the sports betting action, as they do not believe facilities such as Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort should “monopolize” the business.

“We are a group of restaurant and bar owners who are tired of getting slaughtered by out-of-state corporations,” said Jake Padlow, who serves as vice president of the new West Virginia Restaurant and Bar Association.

“Why should (racetracks) get to monopolize it? If our legislators can’t trust local businesses, but they can trust these out-of-state corporations, that says a lot,” Padlow, owner of Jerry’s Bar in McMechen, added.

The legislation, Senate Bill 415, passed the Senate by a vote of 25-9. It then zoomed through the House of Delegates by a count of 77-22.

If Gov. Jim Justice signs the bill into law — and if the practice eventually becomes legal at the federal level through a U.S. Supreme Court ruling or an act of Congress — West Virginia’s four racetracks would be allowed to offer sports betting, as would the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs.

Generations Restaurant and Pub of Wheeling owner Mike Duplaga III is the new assocation’s president. He and other association members are concerned the legislation, in its current form, will hurt their business.

“We are busy on Sunday afternoons during football season. Why should I stand by and watch the track (Wheeling Island) take my customers over there where they can bet?” Duplaga said.

In addition to the Northern Panhandle tracks, the legislation would allow sports betting at the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in the Eastern Panhandle and at the Mardi Gras Casino and Resort, near Charleston.

Regarding Padlow’s reference to the tracks as “out-of-state corporations,” at least three of the properties are owned by companies headquartered in other states. Wheeling Island parent company, Delaware North, is based in Buffalo, N.Y.; Mountaineer is owned by Reno, Nev.-based Eldorado Resorts; and the track in the Eastern Panhandle is owned by Penn National Gaming, based in Wyomissing, Pa.

“The tracks certainly have their lobbyists on the job in Charleston,” organization attorney Jeff Kessler, a former West Virignia Senate president, said. “The local folks feel like they are getting left out.”

Professional sports leagues, particularly Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association, have expressed concerns about West Virginia’s legislation. They say it does not prohibit players from betting on their own games.

Duplaga and Padlow are used to hearing the argument that the tracks have the technology and resources to regulate gambling better than they do. They said the argument is the same one used with slot machines, which are referred to as limited video lottery when installed at bars and clubs.

“The LVLs are run by the state. Why would this have to be any different?” Duplaga said.

“If it can be done at (Wheeling Island), it can be done here,” Padlow added.

Padlow said there are now about 40 bars and restaurants in the organization, a number he hopes to grow to 200 by June.

“We’re just tired of being overlooked,” Padlow said. “Maybe, by forming an association, we can have strength in numbers.”