At Charles Town, video slots on board 244 of 400 machines open for 'trial run'

September 11, 1997|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Let the video games begin.

That was the theme at Charles Town Race Track yesterday when officials opened video gambling to the public on a limited basis after several months of delays.

It was a modest debut that attracted a combination of the curious, seasoned casino bettors and patrons of the adjacent thoroughbred track interested in an alternative to the horses.

Charles Town official Bill Bork said only 244 of the 400 allowed machines were in operation "during this trial run. We're testing the system and we didn't advertise."

But word of mouth did a good job of finding people like Bob and Gerry Clark of Catonsville, who said they hoped "they would get something similar in Baltimore," 75 miles from Charles Town.

Charles Byrd of Front Royal, Va., is a regular at the races, but he had never played video poker, keno, blackjack or the other assorted games offered.

"I just came to see what it was about," Byrd said. "My wife goes to Atlantic City [N.J.] all the time, but I've never done anything like this. I guess it'll be OK if I win. Sometimes, you can have beginner's luck."

He said he still prefers betting on the horses.

"To be truthful, you've got a little longer to lose your money there. This takes it quick."

Another track regular who didn't want to be identified because he was missing work said he participates in both forms of betting.

"I come here all the time, but you don't do this kind of gambling every day. It's a once-in-a-while thing," he said. "It's just another form of entertainment."

Eric Sams of Nokesville, Va., came to the track because his father was running a horse yesterday. So, he tried his luck at the machines.

"Right now, I would say this is no good because they've already got me for $46," he said. "But it was my own fault. I didn't stop when I was ahead."

The bulk of the machines functioned without a glitch, so the biggest complaint among the seasoned gamblers was a lack of variety.

"The rest of them are probably all going to be the same as these," Gerry Clark said of the machines, most of which were 25-cent types. "I know the elderly like nickel and dime ones. It would be better if they were more assorted."

Carol Tutt brought two of her friends from Falls Church, Va., to see what the video games were like.

"I like to gamble, and I wish they had some blackjack tables and some roulette. I'd play that," she said. "I think if they had some cards, they could draw a lot more people. Machines can beat you, but cards can't."

Accessible from the paddock of the track on the lower level and the dining room on the upper floor, the Silver Screen gambling area will be two-tiered when fully operational.

Yesterday's daytime crowd was primarily elderly, but officials were expecting more young people for night gambling. The building will be open daily from 9 a.m. until 1 a.m.

For the uninitiated, floor walkers were available to explain how a patron could win and how the machines operated. Free drinks were also circulated among the players.

One thing was similar to the racetrack: losers grumbling.

As a young bettor exited from the video arena, he said: "Just one of them days. Check it out and blow a bunch of money. It doesn't take long there."

Pub Date: 9/11/97

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