Poll for greyhound racing opposition group shows limited support in West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As a legislative battle heats up over greyhound racing in West Virginia, a poll on behalf of a group opposing the practice shows little public support for keeping it.

The poll released today by the Grey2K organization asks several questions framed skeptically about greyhound racing — but it also asks several questions cast in a favorable light that still reveal minimal support.

“These are the results and you asked us to survey public opinion and give us the truth of how anyone responded, and that’s what we do,” said pollster Mark Blankenship, whose research firm conducted the poll.

Shawn Fluharty

Delegate Shawn Fluharty, an advocate of the economic effects of greyhound racing at Wheeling Island in the district he represents, dismissed the poll as a biased product of lobbyists.

“This is nothing more than a propaganda machine,” Fluharty, D-Ohio, said in a telephone interview.

Overall, when respondents were asked if they support $13 million to $15 million in gambling revenue to subsidize breeding greyhounds for racing, a majority of respondents said they “strongly oppose.”

“Opposition to that is certain, and it’s pervasive across different subsets,” Blankenship said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

And when asked if they would be more likely to vote for or against a candidate for the Legislature who supports financial support for greyhound racing, 81 percent said they would be more likely to vote against that candidate.

“It’s a big number,” Blankenship said. “You’re talking about 8 in 10 voters who would be opposed.”

Fluharty countered that the number is aimed at putting pressure on elected officials.

“This is nothing more than a propaganda machine. That’s just a way of pressuring legislators on how to vote,” he said.

“They’re paid to do this propaganda stuff, and that’s all you’re going to get. We live in a society where government lives on propaganda rather than actual facts. I’m not the business of governing based on propaganda.”

The survey for Grey2K was of 400 registered, likely voters in West Virginia, where greyhound racing has long been contentious.

Two years ago, in the midst of a budget crisis, legislators voted to divert the millions of dollars that usually goes to greyhound racing from casinos into the General Fund to be used for other expenditures. Gov. Jim Justice then vetoed the bill, making reference to racing’s effect on local economies.

Now, Grey2K has promised another major push against greyhound racing in West Virginia. Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, came out as an early supporter of legislation to divert financial support.

West Virginia is the latest in a series of battlegrounds.

In Florida, a voter-approved ban on greyhound racing is being challenged by a federal lawsuit on constitutional grounds. In Arkansas, greyhound racing is entering a three-year phase-out. 

The survey in West Virginia begins by asking respondents where they might rather spend the $13 million to $15 million. The most popular answer, with 52 percent was improving West Virginia roads and highways.

Fluharty said the question is misleading because the most likely scenario would be retention of the money by the casinos that generate it.

“This is not taxpayer money. This is money raised at the casinos,” he said. “The idea that the money is going to go anywhere but back to the casino is just a lie put forth by lobbyists and Mitch Carmichael. Imagine that.”

The survey then asks a series of questions framed critically of the greyhound industry.

The first describes conditions under which dogs may be kept. After hearing the description, 63 percent said they were much more opposed.

Another describes greyhound deaths and injuries. After hearing that, 61 percent said they were much more opposed.

And another questions asks if the state should spend gaming revenue on other ars such as roads or schools, rather than to support greyhound racing. Seventy-three percent said they strongly agree.

The survey then pivots to questions that are more supportive of greyhound racing.

The first describes 1,700 jobs supported by the practice at two West Virginia casinos, a number originating from a 2012 study by West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

“Ending greyhound racing would threaten these jobs,” the survey noted.

Yet 57 percent said that made no difference of their view.

“We all know in West Virginia jobs and economic growth are important,” Blankenship said. “But as the results of this survey indicate, it’s not as effective as you would think.”

Fluharty said he stands by those jobs numbers and views them as vital to the state’s economy.

“We have a study from our flagship university and that study details the thousands of jobs and the millions in revenue,” he said.

“Yet we’re willing to say that people hired as lobbyists and p.r. firms know better about this industry than our flagship university. That’s complete b.s. I’ll take the word of West Virginia university before I’d take the word over paid hacks.”

Another question suggests there has not been evidence of animal cruelty or abuse at West Virginia racetracks or breeding kennels. But 65 percent said that makes no difference.

And a question says greyhound racing is highly regulated and that breeders must follow state and federal guidelines. But again, 62 percent said that makes no difference.

Questionnaire With Results (Text)

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