WV greyhound industry runs through taxpayer subsidies

An independent comprehensive study finds that West Virginia’s troubled greyhound racing industry may be on its last legs. The report by Spectrum Gaming Group says operating the state’s two greyhound tracks in Wheeling and Cross Lanes under the current structure “does not appear to be in the best interest of West Virginia taxpayers.”

The study by Spectrum shows just how far interest in dog racing has fallen, and how much the industry depends on subsides to survive. Consider these numbers from Spectrum:

—Wagering at the tracks dropped 55 percent from 2004 to 2013, from $35 million to just $16 million.

—Attendance is declining precipitously. In 1983, the greyhound racing at Wheeling Downs drew 929,000 people. Spectrum estimates that’s now down to 13,000 or about 50 people per race day.

—Purses are propped up by subsidies from other forms of gambling at the tracks, accounting for 95 percent of purse amounts.

—The state also subsidizes the Greyhound Breeding Development Fund. In 2013, the state pumped $5.5 million into the program that’s supposed to encourage dog breeding here. Ten breeders got half of the money.

—A WVU study found the greyhound industry had a $31 million economic impact on the state in 2012, but state subsidies that year totaled $29 million. That means, “The total direct and indirect impact barely exceeded the casino supplement.”

—Greyhound racing continues to fall out of favor. West Virginia is one of seven states that still has greyhound racing, down from 15 in 2001. Of the 21 remaining dog tracks in this country, 12 are in Florida.

West Virginia approved slot machines to keep the two dog and two horse tracks operating by offering more gambling alternatives and supplementing the purses. Over the years, casino gambling has become more popular and profitable.

Spectrum did not study horse racing, but this report shows unequivocally that greyhound racing is dying, propped up almost entirely by other forms of gambling. Even Sam Burdette, president of the West Virginia Owners and Breeders Association, sees the inevitable and is pushing for a $75 million buyout of the industry.

The West Virginia Kennel Owners’ Association is, according to Spectrum, “vehemently opposed to the buyout plan,” and that’s expected; they’re trying to hang on to their livelihood. But as the new Legislature looks for ways to save money, the state’s multi-million dollar annual subsidy of a moribund industry will be an attractive target.

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