WHEELING - West Virginia lawmakers visiting Wheeling last week from across the state said they immediately noticed there isn't enough signage leading visitors from Interstate 70 to the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack.
They also asked Osi Imomoh, the new president and general manager at the racetrack, what the facility can do to help itself after Imomoh asked the lawmakers to reduce or eliminate table game licensing fees.
The Legislature last week held an interim session in Wheeling, and most members attending stayed at the track's hotel. Imomoh addressed a meeting of the Legislature's Joint Standing Committee on Finance there Friday.
He presented numbers detailing how table gambling revenue has decreased at the track after Ohio operations began offering table games in 2010. Table gambling revenue at the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack dropped from about $28 million in 2010 to about $12 million last year. The revenues are expected to drop to less than $10 million this year and in 2014, according to Imomoh.
Track officials announced earlier this month they will renew their table game license with the state at a cost of $2.5 million. Legislation to reduce the fee by $1 million passed the West Virginia Senate this year, but it was not addressed in the House.
"The bottom line for me as a policymaker - it comes down to your ability to attract people to come here more so than the tax rate," said Sen. Erik Wells, D-Charleston. "Nobody coming through the doors knows what you pay in taxes. They come here for a specific reason.
"Even if we set the tax rate at zero, we can't guarantee you're going to have more business. ... I think, overall, it's not the tax structure. It's the competition," he continued. "We cannot draw up a business plan for you to attract customers."
Imomoh spoke of the partnerships he recently formed with Oglebay Park's Wilson Lodge to provide golf opportunities for Wheeling Island hotel customers and with the Hampton Inn in Woodsdale for the use of its Aquatic Center.
In return, customers at Wilson Lodge and the Hampton Inn can partake in dinner and casino opportunities on Wheeling Island.
Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, said the West Virginia Division of Highways soon will begin work on Interstate 70 east of the Wheeling Tunnel, which will result in single-lane closures over the next eight years as all four lanes are completed. She asked whether track officials have considered as part of their future business model what they will do over the next eight years to make the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack a destination attraction.
"I have six months to figure out a way to get people to love us and to make that drive regardless of the road construction," Imomoh responded. "Is it scary? Yes, it is."
Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Fairmont, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he had difficulty finding Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack when he arrived in the city because of a lack of signage.
"The little signs with arrows didn't make me feel comfortable," he said. "And there's no curb appeal. I would feel a lot more comfortable if there was more landscaping and the parking lot lines and curbs were painted. You have to do things like that to get people into the store."