Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie: city pleased with poker's presence - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie: city pleased with poker's presence in region

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Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie has a unique view of table games.

The former Republican senator was a member of the West Virginia Legislature in 2007 when lawmakers approved a public vote in the four counties with racetracks to decide whether or not the tracks should add table games.

McKenzie, who supported that measure at the time, left the Legislature and was elected mayor of his hometown of Wheeling, which is home to Wheeling Island Hotel, Casino & Racetrack.

McKenzie said he read recent news about the Republican Party's push to have a recall election in Kanawha County on table games after some people claim the Nitro-area Mardi Gras Casino failed to keep promises made when table games were allowed in 2007. But McKenzie said the story is different in the Northern Panhandle.

"They've done everything they said they would do," McKenzie said of Wheeling Island. "They've expanded, they have invested money, they have employed more people, and we've not seen any increase in illicit drugs, prostitution, illegal gambling or crime in our community because of Wheeling Island Racing, and that's just all factual information, that's not my opinion."

McKenzie said Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in Hancock County, which was part of his senatorial district, provided a boost to the top of the panhandle when the steel industry collapsed.

McKenzie said both racetracks had been "wonderful community partners," participating in several local programs and charities. He also pointed out that competition from neighboring states forced the Northern Panhandle tracks to stay competitive.

"The economy is still struggling, and I know myself, you cut back on extracurricular activities, and the gaming industry is just that," McKenzie said. "I think that track down there may be doing what all businesses are doing — they've cut back on expenses."

McKenzie said the Republican Party's position in 2007 was not one of supporting gambling but in support of the public's right to make a decision. And that's what Republican Party Chairman Mike Stuart is calling for again.

"I believe what Mr. Stuart's position is that one of the four casinos has not fulfilled their promises," McKenzie said. "If that happened in other parts of the state, I think that it is possible that people might have buyer's remorse. But I think you have to take into account all the issues.

"I think they need to be held accountable. I think everybody needs to be held accountable, but you have to put it into perspective."

McKenzie said any company that receives money, gifts or support from the state should be examined closely.

"The state of West Virginia has given tremendous opportunities for Macy's in the Eastern Panhandle, and Macy's promised jobs," he said. "Toyota was given tremendous benefits, and they promised jobs, so if any of those entities received a tremendous amount of tax dollars, we should always have the right to question what government has done."

McKenzie, who has a financial planning background, said the issue of providing tax breaks in exchange for promises of jobs is a "numbers game."

"I don't know how you can justify demanding a significant investment with the opportunity to take that away from them in the short term. I think those two issues collide," he said. "All things being fair, how can you expect a company to come in and build a million dollar facility then come back in a few years and take your ability to earn money away from you?"

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