The West Virginia Legislature is making yet another attempt at eliminating greyhound racing in the state. The Senate is beginning work this week on SB 285 which would eliminate the subsidies paid annually to greyhound racing prize money and a fund that supports breeders.
Previous efforts to get West Virginia out of dog racing have failed, most notably in 2017 when Governor Jim Justice vetoed a similar bill. “If we get rid of greyhound racing it will mean job losses and fewer people coming to West Virginia,” Justice said.
However, Justice’s position may be shifting. The Governor was noncommittal when asked last week where he stood on the bill, although greyhound racing opponents in the Legislature believe the he is now more inclined to get the state out of the business.
Greyhound racing has been shrinking dramatically in this country. Florida, which had 11 tracks, the most of any state, voted in 2018 to phase out dog racing by 2021. The Arkansas Racing Commission last year approved the shutdown of the state’s only track by 2022.
After the Florida and Arkansas closures, there will be only five tracks left in the country—one each in Iowa, Alabama and Texas and two in West Virginia, at the Mardi Gras Casino and Resort in Cross Lanes and Wheeling Island Hotel Casino and Racetrack.
Grey2K, the national organization that advocates for the end of greyhound racing, is now putting a focus on West Virginia. It has hired an experienced lobbyist to try to guide the bill through the Legislature.
One of the driving forces behind the opposition is subsidy. Each year, approximately $15 million in casino revenue is redirected to support greyhound racing. Without that money, greyhound racing would not be able to survive here.
Industry supporters argue greyhound racing supports 1,700 jobs and is a tourist attraction. They also say the money from the casinos is not a “subsidy,” but rather their share of the gambling dollars they were promised when the tracks opened casinos.
This is a tight budget year so the possibility of “finding” $15 million is attractive. Legislators are looking for more per diem money for foster families. It’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, but don’t be surprised if greyhound opponents ask, “Do you want to give money to dog racing or foster families?”
Grey2K’s efforts here may get a boost from a member of the Trump family. Lara Trump, President Trump’s daughter-in-law, was instrumental in getting greyhound racing banned in Florida and I’m told she is interested in taking on the same fight in West Virginia.
It’s expected that lawmakers from districts where tracks are located will fight hard to preserve it, but greyhound racing is quickly dying out. The better option for the greyhound industry in West Virginia would be to negotiate a phase out like Florida and Arkansas are doing.