|By Justin D. Anderson, Charleston Daily
Mail, W.Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sep. 15, 2008 - CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Eight years ago, Greenbrier County voters soundly defeated a referendum to allow The Greenbrier resort to have table games.
But an official for the union that represents about 1,100 resort workers says conditions are very different now that voters again are being asked to pass such a referendum.
"We feel that the general dynamics have changed greatly since 2000," said Peter Bostic, business manager for Unite Here Local 863.
Bostic said in 2000 the White Sulphur Springs resort was coming off record years in terms of revenue. The resort wanted to offer table games to boost business when it dropped off each year from January through March. Voters turned down the referendum 58 percent to 42 percent.
Eight years later, Bostic said, the nation is in a recession and Greenbrier County's unemployment rate is rising.
The union successfully asked the Greenbrier County Commission last week to put a table games referendum on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.
Bostic says the 230-year-old luxury resort has been losing millions of dollars a year. Table games would ensure that The Greenbrier stays in business, the union believes.
"I don't want to put the impression out there that there's doomsday on the horizon," Bostic said. "But common sense tells you that a company cannot continue to take million-dollar losses year after year and expect to stay in business."
The union and resort are at a stalemate over a new contract after resort officials announced it would no longer be able to afford paying full-time benefits to part-time workers. Union workers have been on the job without a contract since January.
Lowell Rose, the county commission president, said there has been another change since the 2000 table games vote. There were no legal video slot parlors then. Lawmakers didn't authorize those until 2001.
Also, there are now three racetracks in the state that offer table games, so it's no longer a novel idea to voters.
Rose said his county is dotted with slot parlors. He believes some voters will think that table games confined to The Greenbrier would not be as big a problem as the neighborhood parlors and will vote in favor this time.
"I think the attitude of the public in general will probably be a little different this time," Rose said. "I still don't know that (the referendum) will pass."
Rose said the strong religious contingency in his county would definitely come into play as the issue is debated. Local church leaders were instrumental in getting the table games referendum defeated the first time.
Mark Brandon, assistant pastor at Graystone Baptist Church in Fairlea, said his and other churches again are ready to fight.
"We just simply are against bringing that kind of thing here because there's a lot of devastation for people who get involved in gambling," Brandon said.
"We're not in favor of anyone losing their positions. But we're just concerned with bringing gambling of that magnitude into this area."
Church leaders already have met to discuss a campaign to defeat the measure, Brandon said.
Aside from directly addressing congregations -- Graystone's includes 200 people -- Brandon said one idea is simply to get information out to the communities about the pitfalls of gambling.
In 2000, The Greenbrier waged an expensive ad campaign to try to convince voters and still lost out to the influential churches. Resort officials have not said whether they will have any involvement this time around.
Resort officials declined to comment about the upcoming referendum. Rose said the silence seems to imply the resort doesn't have a problem with the idea.
"I would imagine that they would be in favor," Rose said. "I mean, they tried to get it before."
But as of right now, it's up to the union and its members to wage a campaign to get the referendum passed.
Bostic wouldn't specifically address the campaign plan other than to say that members would be spreading the word that table games would ensure that jobs at the resort stayed there.
"We're going to focus on a grass roots campaign as we don't have deep pockets to run a mass media blitz," Bostic said.
Contact writer Justin D. Anderson at email@example.com or 304-348-4843.
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