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Gambling not a long-term solution for West Virginia

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  • OPINIONState Journal EditorialsMore>>

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    Friday, August 1 2014 1:48 PM EDT2014-08-01 17:48:52 GMT
    It’s not a stretch to say West Virginia once had the dubious distinction of having the worst workers’ compensation system in the nation.
    It’s not a stretch to say West Virginia once had the dubious distinction of having the worst workers’ compensation system in the nation.

Reality is quickly setting in for state leaders using gambling revenue to fill state coffers. As long as West Virginia had the only action in town, the money flowed in and not much was said. Other states have seen this windfall and they wanted their own piece. Now, folks in Columbus, Pittsburgh and Maryland don't need to make the drive into the Mountain State to play roulette, black jack or slot machines. As these other states bring casinos online, establishments in Wheeling, Chester, Cross Lanes and Charles Town are starting to see the deck stacked against them. Things have gotten so bad at Wheeling Island Racetrack and Casino, management is now asking the state to reduce its licensing fee for table games. They claim if they don't get the exemption, they can't host table games and already sinking profits will dip that much lower. State leaders are now scrambling to find ways to remedy the situation, but the best we've seen is a stop-gap measure that even legislators themselves are calling a short-term fix.

Some could argue that gambling, just like any industry, should prepare for the lean times and not ask the state to start changing the rules just to suit them. One could also argue that casinos in West Virginia need to better understand the current competitive landscape and find new, innovate ways to grow their businesses and attract more customers. Perhaps if they were better equipped to give players a reason to drive from Pittsburgh to Wheeling, there might be room for optimism. If this industry has any chance at survival, these questions must be addressed.

Our state leaders must also wake up and respond proactively to yet another drying revenue stream. Coal severance tax collections are waning and the price of natural gas continues to drop. After that, what's left? How does the state expect to maintain a budget? Now is the time to open this state for investment. If we fail to put West Virginia on a path to prosperity, we are going to force yet another generation to find a life beyond these beautiful hills. The formula for success is not complicated — we need a modern tax code that reflects the realities of a global economy, a court system that puts justice above politics and schools that prepare our kids for life in the 21st century. We can either roll the dice with the status quo, or do the smart thing and get to work on a better West Virginia.