CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice has vetoed a bill that would eliminate the state’s role in the greyhound racing industry. Both sides of the issue said the bill would effectively kill greyhound racing at the state’s two tracks.
There’s still a chance lawmakers could vote to override the veto today, the 60th and final day of the session, but the talk at the Capitol was that there hasn’t been that much desire to do so.
The governor went to the Northern Panhandle, where greyhound racing occurs at Wheeling Island, to make his announcement. He appeared at Independence Hall with a large crowd.
“If we get rid of greyhound racing it will mean job losses and fewer people coming to West Virginia,” Justice later stated in a release.
“Eliminating support for the greyhounds is a job killer and I can’t sign it. The last thing we need to do is drive more people out of West Virginia. We can’t turn our back on communities like Wheeling that benefit from dog racing.”
In his veto message, Justice questioned the legality of the Legislature unilaterally decoupling West Virginia casinos and race tracks because counties authorized gaming and racing as a package deal. Justice said that SB 437 would also jeopardize the health of the state’s casino industry.
Justice stated, “Greyhounds are born runners, and I hope to keep them running in West Virginia for a very long time.”
“We can’t turn our back on dog racing in WV!” Justice said in a tweet about his veto.
We can’t turn our back on dog racing in WV! – JJ #wvgov #wvpol #SaveOurState pic.twitter.com/er7TKnv9oW
— Governor Jim Justice (@WVGovernor) April 8, 2017
The bill would have eliminated the state’s role in funding the greyhound breeder’s fund and purses for races. Money in the fund comes from other fees paid by the state’s casinos. The state handles the money through Lottery funds.
It would have allowed the two greyhound racetracks at Wheeling Island and Mardi Gras in Cross Lanes to retain their other gaming licenses.
It also would have invested a million dollars in a fund to promote the adoption of retired greyhounds.
Those who voted for the bill said the state should not have a role in promoting greyhound racing. They also viewed the bill as a way to transfer about $14 million that would have gone to greyhound racing into the general fund to help balance the state budget.
The bill had a particularly challenging path through the state House of Delegates, where there were several delays on voting.
Delegates Erikka Storch, a Republican, and Shawn Fluharty, a Democrat, were particularly vocal in their opposition to the bill. Both serve the Wheeling area.
Justice mentioned both as he made his announcement today. Storch and Fluharty were watching the livestream of his announcement from the House chambers while in recess.
Storch said today she hopes the Legislature will stand pat.
“I’m hopeful that my colleagues can look at the numbers, look at the impact to the state, to their districts,” Storch said.
“I don’t believe from what I’ve heard that the Senate has enough votes to overrride it. The House, sadly as the numbers went last week, 56-44, it possibly could get through the House.”
Fluharty said he was glad his community turned out in support of the governor and the industry that affects his district.
“We were happy to see the results and what took place in Wheeling. Glad to see Wheeling turn out the way they did. That was a great crowd to see the governor,” Fluharty said.
Fluharty was hoping midnight and the end of the legislation will come before any override attempt.
“Now it becomes a procedural game. I’m willing to read race results for the past 10 years if I have to.”
He doubted it would come to that, though.
“I’m confident we will not see a veto override issue.”