West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
Charleston Gazette on West Virginia as a bellwether of bad health for the country:
It’s not much fun being the distant early warning system for the rest of the United States.
According to a recent report by The Associated Press, the Mountain State is the testing ground for anything negative that will eventually impact the health and well-being of Americans as a whole. Great.
In this case, the report was focusing on declining lifespans in the nation, a relatively new and unsettling trend. From the report: “The drug overdose death rate for all Americans today is where West Virginia’s rate was 10 years ago. The nation’s suicide rate is where West Virginia’s was nearly 20 years ago. Obesity was common in West Virginia before it became widespread in the rest of the country. And life expectancy began tumbling in the Mountain State before it began falling across the rest of the United States.”
Doesn’t exactly fill you with hope, does it? But, if you’re not depressed yet, West Virginian Maggie Hill, 67, is quoted in the report as saying, “I don’t think people have a lot to live for. I really and truly don’t see things getting better.”
That’s always been a piece of the puzzle in West Virginia. If you read the piece and discover all the things Hill has lived through, it’s easy to understand where she’s coming from. That’s applicable to the state, as well. So many things have happened to West Virginians — from the decline of industry to the rise of the opioid epidemic — that hope is a rare and sometimes even dangerous commodity. A lot of people here have been through the wringer a time or two.
But West Virginians also embody a strong sense of pride and, beneath all of that cynicism, there’s usually a sparkle of optimism that things will get better. A lot of small steps are underway at the local level across the state to combat opioids, make communities healthier and create job opportunities. As noted by the AP, most of these are “baby steps,” although Huntington certainly took giant leaps in the way it tackled the opioid problem.
There are circumstances in West Virginia that are beyond the control of its people, and assistance is needed. There are other issues that West Virginians can address one by one if not in some huge, thunderbolt moment. But one thing the state cannot do is embrace despair. That’s the hardest route to travel back from.
The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington on the impact of sports betting in West Virginia:
State-sponsored gambling endeavors tend to resemble arms races. One side gets an advantage with a new weapon, but that advantage lasts only until a rival secures that same weapon.
It was that way with scratch-off lottery tickets. It was that way with number games such as Powerball. Then came limited video lottery, formerly known as video poker. Next were table games at race tracks. One state offers something its neighbors don’t, and it’s a big deal until the neighbors offer the same attraction.
The latest entry in the gambling arms race is sports betting.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan says negotiations between his office and that state’s legislature should produce a bill to be voted on in the 2019 session, according to the Washington Post.
In May, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a ban that prevented all states except Nevada from allowing betting on sports contests. Anticipating that ruling, the West Virginia Legislature passed a bill allowing sports betting once it became legal nationally. Along with Nevada and West Virginia, sports betting is now legal in New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, New Mexico and the District of Columbia, according to the Post. New York and Arkansas are considering legislation allowing sports betting, according to the Post.
Has sports betting paid off for West Virginia? Not all that much, according to a recent article in The Charleston Gazette-Mail. In November, gamblers placed $13.3 million wagers at the three casinos offering the service. They collected $11.96 million in winnings, leaving a profit of $1.33 million. West Virginia’s 10 percent tax on the profits brought $133,351 into the state treasury.
That’s not much, but it was up from the $63,020 the state made in October, the newspaper reported.
Hollywood Casino in Charles Town had almost all the sports betting activity in the state in November, and it would be hit hardest when similar gambling begins in Maryland and the District of Columbia. Sports betting at Mountaineer Casino near Chester and at the Greenbrier brought in smaller amounts. So did Mountaineer, but it didn’t offer the service until Thanksgiving week.
Pennsylvania’s rollout of sports betting could hurt Mountaineer and the Wheeling Island casino. The Greenbrier should be insulated from competition in neighboring states. Sports betting at Wheeling Island and at the Mardi Gras casino at Cross Lanes did not open until last week.
With West Virginia and Pennsylvania in the sports betting business, it won’t be long before Ohio and Kentucky want a piece of the action. That’s to be expected considering the college sports activity in Kentucky and the college and professional activity in Ohio.
Sports betting could end up like riverboat gambling. Indiana and other states jumped into that one early. It was proposed in West Virginia but never approved by the Legislature. Now much of that activity has moved from the river to on-shore casinos.
As neighboring states jump on the bandwagon, sports betting in West Virginia could be more of a dud than a firecracker. People have only so much money to spend on gambling. If they’re betting on football games, they’re probably not betting on dog races or spending that money on other entertainment pursuits. And gamblers may still prefer the illegal books.
The recent news out of Maryland and D.C. is not all that good for West Virginia, but it’s not all that bad, either. Yet.
While casinos and state officials figure out how to get sports gambling established here before other states take over the market, the rest of us will wait for the next big thing in legalized gambling.
Bluefield Daily Telegraph on regional aspirations for 2019:
Farewell 2018. Welcome 2019! Following a year of continued economic recovery and renewed hope here in the coalfields of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia, optimism for the new year is unusually high.
We are entering the new year with momentum, but a few challenges await as well.
Hundreds of new coal mining jobs were created across the region in 2018, and that trend is expected to continue well into 2019. Of course there is still the issue of the new coal operation in Mercer County that is impacting the Hatfield-McCoy Trail.
Negotiations between all of the involved parties, including the trail authority and the coal company, are continuing. With hope we will see a successful resolution to this issue. In the meantime, officials with the Hatfield-McCoy Trail are still working to develop a new trail in Mercer County that will move the ATV riders away from the active coal mining operation to ensure the safety of all individuals.
The plethora of ATV resorts, shops and campgrounds in our region will be watching this issue closely, as will we. It is imperative for the region’s robust ATV tourism engine to keep rolling.
The new year also will bring the long-awaited resumption of construction on the King Coal Highway in Mercer County. Yes, if all goes as planned, our “Bridge to Nowhere” problem will be resolved beginning this spring. The $57 million contract will create a usable segment of the future Interstate 73 corridor in Bluefield while extending the four-lane corridor 3.8 miles toward Route 123 and the Mercer County Airport.
Dominion Energy also is expected to make a final decision later this year on a proposed $2 billion hydroelectric pump station project that is being considered for East River Mountain, near Bluefield, Va., in Tazewell County.
The company says a decision on whether the clean-energy facility will be located in Tazewell County will be made toward the end of 2019, after all the feasibility work and related environmental studies have been finished.
The project would take 10 years to complete, creating more than 2,000 jobs during the construction phase with about 50 permanent jobs once it is complete. It would also generate about $12 million a year in new tax revenue for the coalfield counties of Southwest Virginia.
Other projects, including the new $2.5 million Bluefield Commercialization Station and the new $1.3 million transfer station project in Bluefield, also hold great promise for the future. In the city of Princeton, work on phase two of the new municipal hall project will be getting underway this year along with continued work on the new $3 million emergency shelter and education center project planned by the Princeton Rescue Squad. And in another win for the region, school officials in Mercer County are hoping to finish construction on the new $12 million Mountain Valley Elementary School project this summer.
We have much to be excited about in 2019. The future is looking brighter, and that is something everyone can be happy about.
Today, we celebrate the start of a new year. It is an opportunity for a new beginning. A chance to better our neighborhoods, communities, states and nation. It is a time for hope.