Vote on greyhound racing bill is delayed

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Senate Finance Committee has postponed its vote on a bill eliminating state’s role in a greyhound breeders fund and the purses associated with greyhound racing.

Mike Hall

After a lengthy discussion about greyhound racing Tuesday, the committee was expected to vote on the bill today. But committee chairman Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said as today’s meeting began that substantive changes about funding — particularly relating to the state Racing Commission — need to be addressed.

“We’ve determined there are some things that really need to be changed,” Hall said. “We’re working toward bringing that bill back toward the end of the week.”

The bill would end the greyhound breeders fund and transfer the money to the state Excess Lottery Revenue Fund for appropriation by the Legislature. The bill would do the same for purses for greyhound racing.

Money in the fund comes from a portion of video lottery and table gambling revenue at the Wheeling and Charleston casinos.

The bill would allow tracks where greyhound racing currently takes place to maintain a video lottery license even if greyhound racing were to be discontinued there. That is commonly referred to as “de-coupling.”

Two fiscal notes, plus the GOP’s budget framework discussed Monday, attribute $15 million in savings to eliminating the greyhound breeding development fund. The fiscal notes were supplied by the state Lottery Commission and the state Racing Commission.

Gov. Jim Justice has opposed doing away with the fund.

Senator Corey Palumbo (D-Kanawha) indicated he has not made up his mind about whether to support ending the subsidy. Palumbo spoke Wednesday morning on “Talkline” with Hoppy Kercheval.

Corey Palumbo

“It’s not as simple as we don’t provide this money and we save $15 million,” Palumbo explained. “There is another side to the issue.  If you believe the breeders and kennel owners, they say if we take that money away the state’s going to lose $26 million.”

The owners and breeders believe that will be lost in jobs and other associated benefits derived from keeping the dog tracks in business.  Most concede without the support it’s unlikely dog racing would survive in West Virginia. However, Palumbo added unlike other businesses this relationship is more than just the state upholding a business.

“We’re right there with the tracks and casinos and have been for years and years,” he explained. “We’re essentially a partner in these gambling enterprises.  It’s different from other private businesses in the state because the state is receiving a lot of the benefit and revenue.  We’re more in on these than we are other things.”

Gov. Jim Justice has indicated he doesn’t want to see the money in the Greyhound Breeding Development Fund dissolved.

Still, the bill is part of the GOP leadership’s budget framework and is expected to get a hard push from  the Republicans.  As for Palumbo, he isn’t sure if he’ll join them, but he did acknowledge that having a discussion about it doesn’t hurt.

“I think it’s entirely appropriate to examine items like this in a budget time like we’re in right now,” he said. “It doesn’t necessary mean it’s a decision we should make to eliminate this money, but it’s certainly appropriate to inspect it and see if we should continue to spend money in this way.”

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