West Virginia Legislators Review Greyhound Industry

West Virginia greyhound owners and breeders recently urged members of the Joint Committee on Finance to keep the industry going, even though a recent study indicated dog racing only survives at the state's two racinos because casino profits subsidize 95 percent of purse funds.

Representatives of West Virginia’s greyhound racing industry recently testified before the legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance, urging lawmakers to keep the industry alive, despite an updated study by Spectrum Gaming Group showing attendance and wagering on greyhound racing at the state’s two racinos in Wheeling and Nitro have sharply dropped in the past 20 years.

The study said the industry only survives because casino profits subsidize 95 percent of purse funds, up from 49 percent in 1995. Those subsidies totaled $29 million in 2012, the most recent year available for the study. In fiscal 2013-2014, greyhound racing generated revenue of $1.2 million for the state, but it cost the state Racing Commission $965,000 to supervise those races.

West Virginia Kennel Owners Association President Steve Sarras said the word “subsidy” is used to imply tax dollars support the industry. “Subsidy’s a word you can throw around in the media if you want to get people upset about dog racing,” he said, adding, “In a system that has made the state a tremendous amount of money over the years, and still employs a lot of employees, I don’t think you crumple it up and throw it away.”

Sarras stated greyhound racing benefits the Wheeling and Nitro casinos, distinguishing them from the two dozen casinos in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland. He noted decoupling racing from gambling would eliminate 600 to 1,500 jobs. “Whether it’s 600 or 1,500, I don’t think we can afford to put even 600 more people out of work,” Sarras said.

West Virginia Greyhound Breeders Association President Sam Burdette asked legislators to consider providing an industry buyout, if necessary. “The bottom has fallen out of the money going into the greyhound industry. We understand the changes in technology. We understand the downturn in the economy. We understand you need money to balance your budget. We understand you will be looking very closely at racing. I’m asking, if you pull the rug out from under us, at least give us something to fall on,” he said.