The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 5, 2013

Decline in video slot revenue hits tourism

Some matching fund requests will go unmet

BECKLEY — Diminished returns from video slot machines at West Virginia’s race tracks in recent years finally caught up with a state-run program that billboards such attractions as The Greenbrier and the whitewater rafting industry to entice more visitors.

In fact, last month, the Division of Tourism had a total of $1.4 million in requests for advertising grants, but had a mere $200,000 in its account.

Consequently, some bids for money channeled through the Matching Advertising Partnership Program (MAPP) are going to go unfulfilled, while others likely will have to settle for less, Anna Plantz, director of cooperative tourism, said Friday.

“We pretty much knew for several years now that dollars that come from the video slot machines at the race tracks were decreasing, because there is a lot of competition for those businesses,” she said.

All year long, Plantz pointed out, the tourism commission has been cautioning that dollars are shrinking.

“It’s finally reached a critical phase,” she said.

So critical, in fact, that the Division of Tourism has moved back the traditional New Year’s Day deadline for turning in the large MAPP applications to Feb. 1, all of which are to be reviewed at an April 11 meeting.

In addition, a two-month moratorium has been imposed on the smaller grant and festival and fair applications — those asking for $7,500 or less.

Late last year, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin imposed a 7.5 percent spending rollback in state agencies, but MAPP was unaffected by this, Plantz emphasized.

Besides the world-renown resort in White Sulphur Springs, the program has provided money to promote The Resort at Glade Springs, along with a number of convention and visitors bureaus in southern counties and across the state.

“It’s really no different than how most grant programs work in state government,” Plantz said.

“You get a bunch of grants in and you’re not going to be able to fund all of them. So, the commission has taken that in stride and so has the industry. The industry has been aware of that. It’s not like a huge surprise. The day has come where there’s just not enough dollars to cover all the requests we get.”

Under the legislative rule that governs its operations, Plantz said the commission scrutinizes and assesses all applications based on specific criteria, approving the good-sense projects that usher in a return for the state’s investment.

“Tourism industry members can be the applicants,” she said.

“They’re expected to come in with partners and partner with people in their area and within the state to make more of a presence for West Virginia. The commission is looking for project-oriented applications.”

It’s apparent that some requests will be flat-out turned down, she said.

“Or people have to really scale back their requests,” Plantz said.

Put simply, her message to applicants is terse: “Expect less.”

“Everybody needs to redefine their proposal to really be very project-oriented,” she said.

Consistent with its policy, Plantz said the tourism commission requires tracking with money approved for proof that it was a good return for the investment.

“That’s one of the evaluation criteria questions,” she said.

“If someone has a better return on investment, they may do better in the program than someone who can’t provide a return on investment.”

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