Pendleton casino bill resurfaces

A bill that would bring full-fledged casino gambling to Pendleton County cleared the West Virginia Senate’s Judiciary committee Thursday and will now be considered by the Finance Committee.

Senate Bill 492 aims to create a rural resort community on the property of the Fisher Mountain at the Highlands golf course, located just east of Franklin on U.S. 33. This is the second consecutive year in which the Legislature has considered the idea of creating a casino in Pendleton County. Last year, the measure died in committee, as it was introduced to the Senate too late in the legislative session.

Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, is again on of the bill’s co-sponsors. The bill’s lead sponsor is Nicholas County Sen. Greg Tucker. The bill also has the backing of 10 senators, including Senate president Jeff Kessler and Majority Leader Larry Edgell. Barnes could not be reached for comment.

The bill is an amended version of the same legislation that paved the way for The Greenbrier to begin offering casino-style gaming at its historic facility.

A rural resort community, under the bill’s definitions, would be a planned community with at least 1,000 planned home sites and occupying no less than 1,000 contiguous acres. There would also have to be a hotel or lodge with no fewer than 150 guest rooms. Specific guest amenities, such as hiking and biking trails, tennis, golfing and swimming, would have to be offered.

The resort would have to be located in a county with less than 15 people per square mile and have a state or national forest within its borders. The resort development must also be at least an $80 million investment, according to the bill’s requirements.

LGI Land, a Texas company, purchased the golf course and the adjoining property from Franklin developer Rob Locklin in 2007. But the company has faced difficulties in getting the project to its full fruition because of the lack of infrastructure.

At the time the bill was introduced last year, Barnes said the casino project had the potential to ease the high unemployment rate in Pendleton County. He said it would also allow the local residents to remain close to home for jobs.

Supporters of the bill believe the casino project could add as many as 300 jobs, and would increase tourism to the county.

The bill contains a provision that would give 2.5 percent of the new revenues to Franklin, 2.5 percent of the net revenues to the Pendleton County Board of Education and 4 percent to the county commission.

Supporters of the bill last year estimated the casino could bring as high as $5.4 million to the county’s coffers.