CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — The horse racing track at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races has been a staple of the local economy for decades, but there is some concern among citizens of Jefferson County about the future of the racing industry.
In January, near the end of the legislative session, the Jefferson County Commission held a horse racing summit, meeting with state legislators who represent the Eastern Panhandle as well as horsemen and breeders, to discuss concerns about the racing industry at the state-level, including the reduction in purse funds.
In March, the county commission signed a resolution in support of more live racing days, horse breeding in the county and increasing of purse funds, commission vice president Patsy Noland said.
At Thursday’s commission meeting, Ken Lowe, a resident of Jefferson County, along with George Rutherford, president of the Jefferson County chapter of the NAACP, presented their concerns about the future of the racing industry in Jefferson County.
Rutherford said the economic impact of horse racing is widespread in Jefferson County, since the industry employs approximately 2,000 people.
“The future of racing effects the whole county. If the racing industry were to disappear, there would be an increase in unemployment, an increase in the homeless population and an increase in taxes in Jefferson County. That would also cause a decrease in tourism to Jefferson County, a decrease in gaming revenues and a massive loss of jobs,” he said. “Many people who work in the stables (at the racetrack) are concerned about their livelihood.”
According to Lowe, 57 percent of the land in Jefferson County is used for farming and agricultural uses, and he said a large part of that farmland is related to horses-whether it is the production of hay or a farm for breeding and training horses.
Lowe said the racing industry is “self-destructing” in Jefferson County, with reductions in purse monies and racing days causing horse owners and breeders to run their horses elsewhere.
“When the racing stops, the farms collapse. (Loss of racing) could affect 4-H, the FFA and the county fair. The county could lose $300 million if this industry goes away,” he said.
Randy Funkhouser of the Charles Town Horsemen Benevolent Protective Agency said bills passed in the state legislature in 2014 subjected 35 to 40 percent of the purse monies to government appropriation, a trend he said is causing much uncertainty among those involved in the racing industry.
Lowe asked the county commissioners to approve a resolution supporting year-round live racing, increasing of purse funds and the protection of farming and agriculture as it relates to the care of horses.
While the commissioners who were present for the presentation voiced their support, commission president Jane Tabb was absent from Thursday’s meeting, so the commissioners will postpone any action until the next meeting, Oct. 29.
-Staff writer Mary Stortstrom can be reached at 304-725-6581 or www.twitter.com/mstortstromJN.