CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — There is much that local Democratic and Republican state legislators cannot agree on, but one thing they can agree on is the importance of thoroughbred horse racing to Jefferson County’s economy and the importance of Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races to thoroughbred racing.
“The way to save thoroughbred horse racing is to not destroy it,” state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, said Thursday during the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Legislative Luncheon Recap. He was answering a question from the audience asking how to save thoroughbred horse racing.
“The gaming industry is a complex industry, and live racing is just a part of the gaming industry,” Snyder said. “There’s a lot of cannibalism going on in Charleston. Instead of raising revenues, they want to take money from other sources. They are picking at the bones.”
The Chamber’s legislative recap was held at the Epic Buffet in the casino.
“This building is critically important to Jefferson County and West Virginia,” Snyder said, referring to Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. “They are competing with 20 out-of-state casinos and the casino at National Harbor is coming. Taking money from everything is not the answer.”
A new casino complex is under construction at National Harbor in Maryland near Washington, D.C. It is projected to come on line next year, and it is projected to seriously impact Hollywood Casino’s business.
State Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, commended the Jefferson County delegation for working together to preserve the horse racing industry.
“We must constantly tell the story of how important horse racing is on the economy in the Eastern Panhandle and the state as a whole,” he said Thursday. “There was a lot of concern this year. This could have been a bad year for horse racing. The threat to horse racing is a symptom of the challenges the state faces. When it’s a matter of money, people start looking for piles of money to take from. (The Republican majority in the state Legislature) has tried to change that paradigm. We are trying to raise the general revenue of the state so we don’t have to look at cuts.”
Espinosa is optimistic that a special joint committee on tax reform will find ways to broaden the tax base and lower the tax rate, he said.
State Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, said Thursday that the gaming industry has the highest tax rate of any industry in West Virginia. He said that giving tax relief to casinos, like lawmakers gave to the coal industry, would help horse racing, but he added politically, that would not happen.
“We need a long-term commitment from the casino to racing,” he said. “I want Hollywood Casino to succeed. I want horse racing to succeed. The industry has been segmented, at odds, adversaries. Everyone must work together.”
State Delegate Jill Upson, R-Jefferson, also took part in the legislative wrapup. State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, was invited, but did not attend.
Other issues that were discussed included education, tort reform, an audit of the state Division of Highways, changes to the prevailing wage law, nonpartisan elections of the state judiciary and elimination of straight-ticket voting.
Several legislators mentioned Thursday how a moderate, bipartisan effort got the Distillery Bill passed, which had a direct impact on the Bloomery Plantation Distillery in Jefferson County. Because of existing alcohol control and tax laws, the distillery shut down. It reopened after the legislation was passed liberalizing the state’s alcohol laws to compete with neighboring states.
– Staff writer John McVey can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128.