West Virginia got into the gambling business 30 years ago, and for much of that time, the Mountain State stayed ahead of the game.
It began in 1986 with instant lottery tickets and a prize of $5,000, and the state netted about $20 million that first year. Those revenues grew steadily of the next two decades, and casinos and race tracks in the panhandles attracted visitors from other states, where gambling was more limited.
But it soon became clear that maintaining that revenue stream meant staying “competitive.”
As neighboring states added lotteries or expanded casino options, West Virginia did, too. Total gaming revenues continued to rise until the Great Recession, topping out at almost $1.6 billion in 2007. But the trend line has been up and down since then, and unfortunately, mostly down.
After bouncing back to almost pre-recession levels in 2012, revenues have declined each of the last four years, largely due to competition. Neighboring states, particularly Ohio and Maryland, have added new casinos and gaming options, and the customers West Virginia once got from those states come less often if at all.