|By Jake Stump, Charleston Daily Mail,
W.Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Mar. 24, 2009 --LEWISBURG, W.Va. -- There's a greater sense of urgency among lawmakers to allow gambling at the historic Greenbrier resort after it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Simultaneously with the bankruptcy filing, CSX Corp., owner of The Greenbrier, announced a deal last week to sell the resort to hotel chain Marriott for up to $130 million.
The news is likely to push The Greenbrier bill through without much opposition, legislators said.
Prior to the announcement, lawmakers introduced legislation to regulate slot machines and table games at the resort in an attempt to save the posh hotel that's been hit by the recession and labor troubles.
Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, said he now expects the bill to pass.
"It's probably a necessary vehicle for them to survive," Chafin said. "The Marriott is going to take it over and they probably can't make any more than CSX unless they resolve the labor issue or have more revenue.
"If they want to give it (gaming) to the dog tracks, for goodness sakes, they should surely give it to The Greenbrier. It's a historic landmark and obviously something we want to preserve."
The Senate version of the bill, introduced by Sen. Jesse Guills, R-Greenbrier, is pending in the Finance Committee after passing the Judiciary Committee.
Implementation of slots and table games would generate between $8 million and $11 million annually, according to legislative reports.
Gov. Joe Manchin expressed his support for the bill last week when The Greenbrier filed for bankruptcy.
"The Greenbrier bill must be passed," he said. "That's part of the whole package that will make it attractive. We'll have an opportunity to make it a world-class marquee for the state of West Virginia."
Manchin spokesman Matt Turner reiterated Monday, "We'll do everything and anything to make that property attractive to keep those good jobs there."
The resort employs more than 1,300 people, but about half of those employees were furloughed in January.
The Senate bill would also allow The Greenbrier and four racetracks to offer free-play coupons, which are currently illegal in the state but permitted in Pennsylvania. The coupons are handed out to frequent players or new players to drum up business. The tracks estimate the ban costs West Virginia up to $20 million a year.
One of the Senate bill's co-sponsors is Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, who said there was a critical need to pass the legislation even before the announced changes.
"It was quite urgent then to save this historic hotel," Foster said. "This is a gem of our state tourism. This seems to be a way to make it economically viable."
Voters in Greenbrier County, who voted no on whether to allow a casino at The Greenbrier in 2000, passed the referendum 51 percent to 49 percent this past November.
The deal between CSX and Marriott is expected to close later this year.
Contact writer Jake Stump at email@example.com or 304-348-4842.
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