News and Notes

Charles Town casino hopes to deal in July

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Imagine Greta Garbo arriving in a Duesenberg. She steps out, passes through a gamut of adoring fans and enters a foyer dripping in art deco.

If this was 1930, Garbo would feel at home passing through the main "old Hollywood" entrance to Charles Town Races & Slots, soon to be renamed Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.

Garbo's image of Hollywood in its heyday would fade away when she saw dealers working blackjack, roulette, baccarat, craps and poker tables, along with 5,000 slot machines and a thoroughbred racetrack.

In December, Jefferson County residents voted overwhelmingly to allow the track to bring in table games. Officials at Penn National Gaming Inc., its owner, said the games were needed to compete with pending gaming operations in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Penn National promised hundreds of new jobs would follow if table games were approved.

Charles Town hopes to have dealers at the tables by the busy Fourth of July weekend, but that could be iffy because of West Virginia licensing laws.

"They can't move in any tables until they have a license," said John Myers, assistant state lottery director in Charleston, W.Va. Licenses can't be bought until July 1, the beginning of the state's fiscal year. Table games licenses cost $1.5 million the first year and $2.5 million every year thereafter.

"It's a logistical thing," Myers said. "We're just as interested in getting them open as they are."

Myers said track officials could hand a check over to a state lottery official at one minute past midnight. The tables could be moved in after that.

"We think we have a plan worked out so we can be open for the Fourth," Al Britton, general manager of CTRS, said last week.

Meanwhile, CTRS executives, employees and outside contractors have been working hard ever since the December referendum to make room for table games.

"We're transforming Charles Town into a Las Vegas-style casino destination," Britton boasted at an April media event promoting the games.

A walk through the facility last week shows that the work involves much more than moving banks of slot machines to make room for nine areas housing 85 table games, including a 27-game poker room and a nonsmoking, high-roller party pit.

Whole sections of the gaming floor are being transformed into a faux classic style and glamour look of 1930s art deco Hollywood.

"Guests will be immersed in a Hollywood atmosphere the minute they walk in the door," Britton said in April.

The new name underscores the expanded Hollywood decor being added to the casino while retaining Charles Town's 77-year-old racing tradition, he has said.

Also getting ready for opening day are more than 400 people being trained for jobs as dealers.

The training is being done through Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg, W.Va., a stand-alone, two-year state college. It is one of three such colleges in West Virginia that are mandated by the state lottery commission to train dealers, said Pat Hubbard, coordinator of economic and work-force development at the school. She is monitoring the training sessions in Charles Town.

The school hired seasoned dealers to teach the trainees, she said.

"Most people don't realize how much the college is involved in this," Hubbard said.

The trainees pay the college. It costs $200 to participate in the two-week introduction to gaming, she said.

Classes for all games except craps run for four weeks and cost $400, Hubbard said. Craps is an eight-week course and costs $700.

Trainees are reimbursed after working a year at the casino, she said.

Britton said 70 percent of the trainees are from West Virginia and nearly half of them are from Jefferson County.