WHEELING - A bill to lower table gambling license fees for West Virginia racetracks had its first of three required readings in the state Senate Friday before it was sent back to the finance committee for more discussion today.
Senate members have until Wednesday - the 50th day of the 60-day session - to pass bills out of their chamber and send them on to the House for consideration. All legislation not read three times and approved in its chamber of origin by Wednesday's "drop dead" date will be dead for this legislative session.
The regular session of the West Virginia Legislature ends April 13.
Senate Bill 615, introduced by Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, seeks to reduce the annual fee each West Virginia casino pays to offer table gambling from $2.5 million to $1.5 million. His original bill would have reduced the fee for just three of the state's racetracks - Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort and the Mardi Gras West Virginia Casino and Hotel near Charleston. But amendments were made this week to include Charles Town Races in the Eastern Panhandle, which generates the largest amount of revenue from table gambling.
Finance committee members are to work over the weekend and research ways to offset the loss of revenue to the state if the license fees are reduced, according to Kessler.
He suggested the money could be taken from administrative fees the West Virginia Lottery Commission receives through its share of all legalized gambling in the state.
Kessler believes there is enough time to pass the bill in the Senate if it is approved by the finance committee today. The second and third readings of the bill before the entire Senate then could take place Tuesday and Wednesday.
"If it is on the agenda (today), I think it will pass out of finance in its current form ... ," he said. "Depending on the size of any amendments, that would retain reading dates.
"I'm saying there's still time," he added. "All readings have to be done by Wednesday, but (today) will probably determine the fate. We just have to see."