West Virginia racing officials recently commissioned a study on the economic impact of the industry on the state. Eric Bowen, a member of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University, said, “We looked at the impact horse and dog racing has, not on casino gambling. These industries do have a big impact with several hundred million in revenue coming into the state economy. The industry also provides several thousand jobs. We need to find a way to maintain this industry.”
Bowen spoke at the recent West Virginia AP Legislative Lookahead, along with John Cavacini, president of the West Virginia Racing Association, ho noted improvements are needed at the state’s four racetracks: Mountaineer, Wheeling Island and Mardi Gras Casino & Resort in Charleston and Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, the only track in West Virginia that is profitable in terms of racing. “Despite a decrease in revenue, none of the tracks have given up on West Virginia. In fact, Mountaineer Park is upgrading every hotel room in their operation. Also, Charles Town is in a position of upgrade every month. We only have so much for capital investment at each track. If we upgrade facilities and add amenities, hopefully we will be able to attract people from surrounding states,” Cavacini said.
State Senate President Jeff Kessler said although lottery revenues have remained at more than $1 billion for more than a decade, “It’s no secret. Casino revenue is declining. We no longer have the monopoly. We were so successful that other states decided to copy us. Now, there is gaming in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland.”
Kessler added another reason gambling revenue is down is “because of a function of population. We relied on out-of-state visitors. Initially, there was a big draw, but at some point that levels out, especially with all the competition. The challenge for us is to bring back those people from surrounding states.”
Randy Funkhouser, president of the Charles Town Horsemen’s Benevolent Association, said the industry has considered advance deposit wagering, upgrading the wagering prospects and internet gaming.
The results of the racing economic impact study will be released in several weeks.