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W.Va. Senate advances bill to build new casino

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- As revenues continue to decline in West Virginia's five casinos, the Senate Finance Committee has passed a bill authorizing a sixth casino in the state.

The bill would allow a casino to be built on a "rural resort community" in Pendleton County near the Virginia border.

Sen. Clark Barnes, one of the bill's sponsors, said that Pendleton County's rural atmosphere would offer the casino advantages over its competitors. Franklin, W.Va., where the resort would be located, had a population of 721 as of the last census and is more than 20 miles from the nearest interstate.

Barnes said that the casino would draw customers from Harrisonburg, Stanton and Charlottesville, Va., all of which are between one and two hours away. Barnes said that Virginia is one neighbor which poses no competition to West Virginia casinos. The casino would be so geared toward Virginians that one of the stipulations of the bill is that the local community must have an inadequate economic base from any source other than tourism.

Racetrack casinos in West Virginia's northern panhandle have faced increased competition from Pennsylvania and Ohio. The racetrack casino in Charles Town, W.Va., will face competition as newly legalized casinos open in Maryland.

Revenue at West Virginia's four racetrack casinos is expected to fall by more than $200 million next year. The racetrack casino in Wheeling has indicated that it will not renew its table gaming license unless the fees that it pays to the state are lowered.

In order to build a casino in Pendleton County, the developers would have to submit plans to build 1,000 home sites and a 150-room hotel. The entire project would have to cost at least $60 million, revised from an initial requirement of $80 million. It would be on the same complex as the Highlands Golf Course.