Discussions are underway at the State Capitol about how West Virginia gets out of the dog racing business. “Something is going to be done; it’s just a matter of time,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Mike Hall (R-Putnam).

A recent independent study by Spectrum Gaming Group chronicled the epic decline of greyhound racing at the tracks in Wheeling and Cross Lanes. Wagering has dropped from $35 million in 2003 to just $16 million in 2013. Attendance has declined from over 900,000 people annually to just 13,000 (though some in the greyhound industry question those attendance figures).

West Virginia uses a portion of the proceeds from other forms of gambling to subsidize greyhound racing. The most recent figures show $10.5 million going toward prize money and $3.3 million to the Greyhound Development Fund which supports the breeders.

Hall and others in the leadership are working on several different options:

1) Cut off payments to the breeders fund and at some point begin phasing out the subsidy of the purses. 2) Eliminate payments to the breeder’s fund and the purses, but offer a buyout to qualifying breeders. 3) Do nothing.

Hall is among those who believe the industry is fading and the money should be recouped, but he’s not willing to rush a decision. “We do not want to have an unintended consequence,” he told me Thursday.

Lawmakers and the Tomblin administration are also concerned that simply eliminating the subsidies, which would likely mean the end of greyhound racing, would lead to a protracted legal fight with the breeders over damages incurred.

Governor Tomblin, whose late mother, Freda, benefited from the breeder’s fund for years, acknowledges times have changed. “As the wagering has continued to decline, it’s time we start looking at how we continue with this industry,” he said Thursday on Metronews Talkline.

The West Virginia greyhound industry is divided over the future. Sam Burdette, president of the West Virginia Greyhound Owners and Breeders Association, favors a buyout. However, breeder Lester Raines believes greyhound racing is still viable.

No doubt those opinions were expressed again yesterday during a private meeting between the stakeholders and state Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss.

Meanwhile, the thoroughbred horse racing industry is watching these developments closely. It also gets sizable payments from other forms of gambling—$33.3 million toward purses and $4.8 million to the Thoroughbred Development Fund this year.

Horse racing is more popular than dog racing, and the industry has much more political support, especially from eastern panhandle lawmakers. However, as overall gaming revenues decline because of increasing competition, the horse racing subsidies will likely also appear on lawmakers’ radar.

Odds are against the state subsidizing racing indefinitely.

 

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Comments

  • MENTOR

    could the greyhound buyout stop a lot of vetos heh hoppy

  • CaptainQ

    Hoppy, this movement in the 2015 Legislature to back away from dog racing begs the question: With dog track revenues and patronage on the decline for the past ten years, why hasn't the state taken action to curtail their subsidies to the industry SOONER? Why was no action taken last year, or the year before, or five years ago?

    Could it be that the WV Democrats who had been in power for the past 80+ years were content to prop up a dying enterprise for political reasons? Was dog racing one of those 'sacred cows' the Democrats didn't want to cut off from the pork barrel 'feed through?'

    And for those trying to compare dog racing to deer farms, one big fact they need to consider. Deer farming is NOT asking for taxpayer subsidies to sustain it, can't say the same for the dog tracks, can we?

    • thornton

      Cool....the comparison was related only to an idea appearing sound...at one time due to Public popularity.
      But, who knows what the deer farmers may demand down the road as a sound idea falters.

      Dog racing or deer farming...look beyond the individual profit motive and the negatives clearly appear.

  • jack

    Anyone that is fully participating in greyhound racing does not favor a buyout. They want to keep on working and supporting their family. Sam Burdette favors a buyout because he is no longer competitive in the sport and he sees it as a golden parachute. Give me a break! Hoppy, you are giving way to much credibility to this "cooked up study". Someone needs to take a look at the export signal and just see how much money is being bet on these WV races around the country and then ask if the state or the greyhound owners are getting any of that money. I think you will find that it is about $80 million and it all stays in the casinos hands. When you add this in the total handle on greyhound racing is up over the last ten years. Of course, bureaucrats and the media only want you to get one side of the story.

  • Bill Hill

    West Virginia should never have been in the greyhound business to begin with. The only reason we are was to provide political benefit to the well connected.

    • WVU74

      Astute observation.

  • thornton

    Dog racing, deer farms...many lights burn bright before they burn out.
    Should the state be an enabler is the question.

  • Mike M

    How about a buyout for the DOH to fix roads that more closely resemble the impact area of an artillery firing range and they're getting worse by the hour.

  • Matt Miller

    Do I understand correctly that:

    (1) One of the main justifications for the casinos at racetracks was to support dog racing?

    (2) Under the law, if the tracks are no longer hosting dog or horse racing, they are not allowed to operate casinos, either?

    (3) The money that is "subsidizing" the dog racing industry is coming directly from the Casino revenue and not from taxpayers?

    (4) The goal here is not to spend less taxpayer money but to get the state a bigger cut of the casino revenue?

  • Jim

    Put a "For Sale" sign out in front of the dog track. If someone wants to operate it and subsidized greyhound breeders out of his own pocket, let him do it and keep the profits. If the new owner wants to bulldoze it and start a Christmas tree farm, let him do that. Why does the government need to keep its fingers in a venture it's losing our money on?

    • Gary

      Agree with you completely. No buyout.

  • Rufus

    If a sport can't support itself get rid of it, no money from the taxpayer.

  • John of Wayne

    I can't fathom the idea of a buyout.

    Racing representatives, speaking on Hoppy's radio program, have argued that they established their businesses in this state in good faith, expecting a money stream from beyond racing. More likely, they identified WV as a cash cow, slow to change, and likely to support this archaic sport that originally was promoted to us as "the sport of kings". Obviously, we don't have that many kings in WV, or the USA for that matter.

    This handful of breeders and dog owners made their money on the losses of gamblers but now think that their return on investment should be guaranteed. Ludicrous.

    Let's hope the legislature isn't buying into this.

  • Fred

    Its interesting how people will react with anger and horror when the latest 'puppy mill' article appears on the local news, but they will welcome greyhound racing with open arms, even though the suffering and death far exceed any puppy mill. We shouldn't be paying off animal abusers like the governors late mother, we should be jailing them.

    • Sheetha

      I too agree. It is absolute abuse what they are doing to these animals.

    • Sarah

      Thank you Fred. This cruel sport should be banned.

    • John of Wayne

      Amen.

  • CaptainQ

    Hoppy, just like the VCR, the typewriter and the 'horse and buggy,' dog racing has become a relic of the ancient past. It's about time the state of West Virginia stopped subsidizing this dying sport. Sad to see it go, but it's crystal clear dog racing is NOT going to be making a comeback anytime soon.

  • Silas Lynch

    Speaking of gambling,, wonder what the odds of the another middle-east country following under the control of ISIS before President Obama leaves office?.....

  • WV Worker

    ARTICLE 22C. WEST VIRGINIA LOTTERY RACETRACK TABLE GAMES ACT.
    29-22C-2. State authorization of table games at licensed racetrack facilities; legislative findings and declarations.
    Legislative findings:
    (1) The Legislature finds that horse racing and dog racing and breeding play a critical role in the economy of this state, enhance the revenue collected at the racetracks, contribute vital revenues to the counties and municipalities in which the activities are conducted, provide for significant employment and protect and preserve green space and; that a substantial state interest exists in protecting these industries. Furthermore, it finds that the breeding and racing of thoroughbred horses is an integral part of West Virginia's agriculture, and that agriculture is a critical ingredient in West Virginia's economy. It further finds that the operation of table games pursuant to this article, at racetracks in this state that hold racetrack video lottery licenses and licenses to conduct horse or dog racing, will protect and preserve the horse racing and dog racing industries and horse and dog breeding industries, will protect and enhance the tourism industry in this state and indirectly benefit other segments of the economy of this state.

    • Jim

      "The Legislature finds that horse racing and dog racing and breeding play a critical role in the economy of this state..."

      Critical??? We're all gonna go broke, or die if we can't go to the dog races? Who do I have to pay off for my personal business to be found to play a "critical role" in the state's economy?

    • ViennaGuy

      The supporters of this subsidy keep pointing to that statute as if the state is contractually obligated to provide this money, when in fact there is no such obligation. The Legislature has the power to write, modify, and remove statutes whenever it wants - including this one. It also has the power to take the money currently provided to dog breeders and use it somewhere else, or not use it at all.

      The fact remains that dog and horse track racing is on the decline nationwide, and pouring more money into it makes no sense whatsoever. The times are changing, and we must change with them.

    • Hillboy

      Some of the logic in the wording is questionable in my opinion. Yes, agriculture is a critical ingredient of WV's economy. But, I don't see how dog breeding is an integral part of WV agriculture. WV agriculture is not going to fold if greyhound breeding stopped.

      Anybody have any idea 1) how many greyhound breeding facilities there are in WV? and 2) how many thoroughbred race horse breeding facilities there are in WV?

    • The bookman

      I would agree that the enacting language in the bill had horse and dog racing preservation as a central theme, but this wouldn't be the first time government attempted to bailout an industry only to fail in its effort to fight market forces.

      Racing has been struggling for decades, and even the enormous purse offerings at our tracks can't stem the retreat of those interested in the activity. The continued expansion of gaming helped to extend the life of this dying industry, but as that expansion has hit its own wall, the time has certainly arrived to ask the hard questions about the future of horse and dog racing.

      • liberty4all

        Agree 100%. As the world changes, so do the preferences of the consumer. It is not the government's job to support industries that cannot survive on their own. The USA no longer watches horse racing, track and field, boxing, etc . . . There are places in the world where tastes are different (see popularity of women's basketball in Russia). The industry either remains nimble and capable of change or it withers and dies. The government should not interfere to grow or save an industry.

  • WV Worker

    ARTICLE 22A. RACETRACK VIDEO LOTTERY.
    §29-22A-2. Legislative findings and declarations.
    (e) The purpose of this article is to define and provide specific standards for the operation of video lottery games at pari-mutuel racing facilities licensed by the state racing commission pursuant to article twenty-three, chapter nineteen of this code. The Legislature finds and declares that the existing pari-mutuel racing facilities in West Virginia provide a valuable tourism resource for this state and provide significant economic benefits to the citizens of this state through the provision of jobs and the generation of state revenues; that this valuable tourism resource is threatened because of a general decline in the racing industry and because of increasing competition from racing facilities and lottery products offered by neighboring states; and that the survival of West Virginia's pari-mutuel racing industry is in jeopardy unless modern lottery games are authorized at the racetracks.