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End to state greyhound subsidies proposed in pending Senate bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Senate Republicans are moving forward with legislation that, if approved, would end state funding for greyhound racing in West Virginia.

Senator Chris Walters (R-Putnam, 08)

On Thursday, Senator Chris Walters (R-Putnam, 08) was preparing to introduce a bill that would take the more than $15 million allocated in the next budget year for both greyhound breeding and greyhound purses and put it, instead, into West Virginia’s general fund.

“Right now in this fiscal situation we’re in, that’s not a great appropriation of funds. It’s not some priority that we, as a Legislature, want to set,” Walters said.

“Enough is enough. It’s time to go on ahead and cut that money and tell them they have four legs and they can stand on their own.”

Casino operators and lawmakers from both political parties were supportive of the proposal, Walters indicated ahead of the bill’s introduction.

The subsidies have been part of the greyhound industry in West Virginia for more than 20 years drawing from state funding in the form of video lottery machine proceeds.

Without those subsidies, “If they cannot come up with the money, bring in enough attendance and run on their own, then this could be the end of the industry,” Walters admitted.

“We’re not here to pick winners as a government. We’re here to allow everyone to compete and succeed or fail on their own accord.”

There are currently two dog racing tracks in West Virginia at Mardi Gras Casino and Resort in Kanawha County, which is in Walters’ district, and at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack in Ohio County.

As required in current statute, $7 million in state funding is provided annually to greyhound purses while $3 million goes to a development fund for greyhound breeders. Additionally, another $5 million is allocated, by choice, for both purses and development, according to Walters.

“Video lottery accounts for 95 percent of the casinos’ greyhound racing subsidies,” a 2015 study from Spectrum Gaming Group found of state subsidies at a time when greyhound racing attendance and in-state wagers were declining.

From 2004 to 2013, wages from outside West Virginia grew by 166 percent while in-person greyhound wagers declined by 55 percent.

“You have to look at the return on investment for the money and the return on investment is not there,” Walters said.

He asked, “Are we going to continue to fund greyhounding or are we going to try to fix PEIA? Are we going to continue fund greyhounding or are we going to make sure that our health clinics, free Health Rights, stay open?”

The bill ending greyhound subsidies does not address horse racing subsidies for purses and development.

Thursday marked the halfway point of the 2016 Regular Legislative Session which ends on March 12.

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