Move to eliminate funding for W.Va. greyhound racing wipes out in final turn

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After a major push to eliminate state support for greyhound racing in West Virginia, the state Legislature overwhelmingly voted down a bill to do that.

Several members of the Senate’s Republican majority crossed over and joined all the Democrats to vote down the bill 11-23.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, expressed strong support weeks before the session began to eliminate state support for greyhound racing, which — everyone seems to agree — would have made the activity untenable at Wheeling Island Hotel Casino Racetrack and Mardi Gras Casino in Nitro.

His support was accompanied by an ad blitz and bipartisan lobbying effort by Grey2K, an advocacy group opposing greyhound racing. The organization released a poll showing limited public support for greyhound racing in West Virginia.

But as Senate Bill 285 was considered on the Senate floor this week, it became more apparent that there was trouble.Two days ago, the bill was pulled from consideration when it would have been on amendment stage.

Behind the scenes, the Senate’s 14 Democrats were aligning with Senator Bill Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, whose district includes Wheeling Island.

And some of the Senate’s 20 Republicans clearly weren’t on board either — particularly those who represent the area surrounding Wheeling. Those include Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, and Senator Mike Maroney, R-Marshall.

In the end, those Republicans and others voted against.

Only senators Azinger, Blair, Boley, Carmichael, Cline, Maynard, Roberts, Sypolt, Takubo, Tarr, Trump voted in favor.

Mitch Carmichael

That was despite a floor speech by Senate President Carmichael, who left the dais to advocate for the bill from the floor. He argued that other states are doing away with dog racing, that injuries raise questions about whether the activity should continue and that West Virginia needs to spend the money that supports racing on other priorities.

“West Virginia, one more time, is an outlier in this and other areas. Across America, this activity is in drastic decline,” Carmichael said.

The state has been taking in money from gaming and then redirecting it to support greyhound racing.

fiscal note from the state Racing Commission concludes that if that practice stopped then $17 million would flow to the State Excess Lottery Fund for appropriation by the Legislature.

In a flat budget year, Carmichael said, that money could be used elsewhere.

“We have a lot of needs in this state. You can imagine all of the needs this funding could be utilized for,” he said.

Weld rose and said he does not believe the greyhounds are treated cruelly or that the overall activity is declining.

“I think it’s obvious that myself and the Senate president are on opposite sides of this issue, but I think that also speaks to the strength of the Senate and how it operates,” Weld said.

“I would urge the no vote on this. Thank you, Mr. President.”

Ihlenfeld also rose and spoke, saying the Wheeling area can’t afford job losses associated with the discontinuation of greyhound racing.

Supporters of greyhound racing have often cited a West Virginia University study that concluded it generates 1,700 jobs.

Ihlenfeld was thinking particularly of Wheeling, where the casino generates activity at a tax increment financing district.

“”We can’t afford to take another blow like this right now in the City of Wheeling,” where greyhound racing occurs at Wheeling Island,” he said.

Not long after that, a Republican from outside that region stood and spoke. It was Senator Randy Smith, R-Preston, a vote that Carmichael might have been counting on.

Instead, Smith said that although he voted for similar bills in the past, he just couldn’t this time. He talked about every job being a resource that shouldn’t be wasted.

“It seems like in West Virginia we’re always willing to take someone else’s job away,” Smith said.

He concluded, “I just can’t vote for it at this time.”

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