WHEELING - Jim Simms soon will yield his post as president and general manager of Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack at a time when the facility is facing increased competition.
However, Simms believes the track still has a bright future.
"People are coming here to game, so we want to give them the best gaming experience possible," said Simms. "We have reinvested in the property to compete as best we can.
Gamers wait to play the Wheel of Fortune game at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack.
Photo by Casey Junkins
"We are confident we have made very good investment decisions. We are going to be the best we can be," he added, noting hotel upgrades are also in the works.
Simms recently accepted an opportunity to open a new casino in Lebanon, Ohio, a position he will accept in April. He came to Wheeling Island in 2006 to help lead the company to record revenues and profits. He was appointed as president and general manager in 2008. Delaware North officials are conducting a nationwide search to replace Simms at Wheeling Island.
One thing that could be changing in coming months is live racing. A need to cut costs in the face of strong competition from neighboring states has Wheeling Island considering this possibility.
"Racing is a declining industry. It is now less than 10 percent of our business," Simms said. "We are doing everything we can do. We have to try to keep all of our businesses solvent."
Just a few years ago, the Wheeling track - along with Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort in Chester - held a virtual monopoly over the gambling market in northern West Virginia, as well as in Pennsylvania and Ohio because those states lacked slot machines and table games.
That has changed, as both Ohio and Pennsylvania have entered the gambling market, with Maryland headed in that direction.
Though he did not want to get into specifics, Simms said he hopes the West Virginia Legislature will consider the situation in which the track finds itself with the increased competition from both Ohio and Pennsylvania. He hopes legislators will consider reducing taxes for Mountain State casinos to allow them to continue to operate in a competitive environment.
"The Ohio casinos, as well as the winter, are really hurting us. When it is cold, people are less willing to travel," Simms said. "We are looking at a very difficult first quarter."
This month, after meeting with the West Virginia Racing Commission, Wheeling track officials learned they will only hold 107 greyhound races per week this year, which is down from 115 per week in 2012. However, Simms said he previously received "conditional approval" to only hold 101 per week, a move that he said could have saved the track $100,000 per week.
"We built that savings into our new plans," he said.
The state's kennel owners argue that Wheeling Island would rather just eliminate racing altogether - a move that would be unconstitutional in West Virginia, as gambling at the tracks is only allowed because of the live racing.
At Mountaineer, General Manager Chris Kern said upgrades are ongoing, featuring new games and programming to offer guests a "pleasant" experience.
"Our recent upgrades include bright, new carpeting, new slot bases and chairs and a new, inviting layout in the Uptown and Downtown gaming rooms," he said.
The track also will be the first casino in the state to offer Michael Jackson "King of Pop" slot machines.
This slot machine is the world's first to feature the iconic Michael Jackson and his unforgettable music. It features a custom surround-sound chair for an unprecedented audio experience, plus thrilling bonuses set to Michael's greatest hits including: "Beat It," "Bad," "Smooth Criminal," "Billie Jean" and "Dirty Diana."
"We are thrilled to be the first West Virginia casino to offer this exciting game," Kern said. "The 'King of Pop' video slot will definitely make for an exciting time for our guests with a state-of-the-art gaming experience."