Greyhound racing in West Virginia could soon be gone

Senate Bill 437 would redirect Greyhound Breeding Development Fund’s money and would make Greyhound racing in West Virginia non-viable.

US.- West Virginia’s revenue has significantly dropped after a serious decline in the coal industry and the state is looking for alternatives to fill a projected US$455 million budget hole this year. That’s where the Greyhound Breeding Development Fund enters the scene.

Steve Sarras, president of the West Virginia Kennel Owners Association, explained that greyhounds eat lots of meat in preparation for running at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and also need vitamins, housing, training and many other expenses. Breeders tackle those spendings with the
Greyhound Breeding Development Fund, that provides them with US$15 million. Thanks to the fund greyhound racing is responsible for about US$17.9 million worth of annual business activity (according to a West Virginia University study), US$4.6 million in compensation for employees and US$213,900 in tax revenue for Ohio County alone.

Sarras warned that if the Legislature eliminates the state’s Greyhound Breeding Development Fund to save $15 million, the industry won’t survive: “I am telling you, if this passes, kennels will not be able to afford to operate.” He explained that Senate Bill 437, which would cut breeders’ fund money and redirect it to the state’s Excess Lottery Revenue Fund for appropriation by the Legislature “it’s a death blow,” and he added: “When you take away the breeders’ fund, you unemploy anyone who is involved in the industry in West Virginia.”

Some legislators seem to have taken notice of Sarras assertions as Delegate Erikka Sortch, R-Ohio, is backing up his plea as she argues that greyhound racing would make the Northern Panhandle lose more than the US$15 million that the state would save in the fund. And “this also doesn’t account for how many local companies do business with Wheeling Island, or for what will happen to the greyhounds if racing goes away,” she said.

Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, also endorsed Storch and Sarras’s argument and adressed the complaints about the breeders’ fund being a “subsidy” as GOP leaders characterised it.

“It is a total misnomer that it is a subsidy. If you don’t go to the casino and don’t gamble, none of your money is ever going to go to the greyhounds,” Storch said.

“All of this money is raised at the track. This is not a situation where taxpayers are funding this through income taxes or any other taxes applied to the general public,” Fluharty explained and added: “A lot of people depend on this industry. I will oppose any bill that is clearly going to cut revenue and jobs in West Virginia.”

The first step in eliminating the fund would be passing the finance committee, but the vote was delayed last week and it’s expected to be back in finance in the next few days.