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Casinos, breeders face cuts in W.Va. budget bill

MARTINSBURG – House Bill 4333, the so-called “haircut bill,” passed the state House of Delegates Wednesday by a vote of 72 to 25 with three delegates not voting.

“I spoke on the floor in opposition to the bill,” Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I was concerned about the impact on the horsemen at Charles Town, who have already been impacted by a loss of revenue at the track because of competition from casinos in Maryland.”

Introduced upon request of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, HB4333 redirects slot machine revenues generated at the state’s four racetrack casinos that are distributed by state statute to various funds.

The original bill would have cut those revenues by 15 percent, or about $39 million, and put that money into the state’s general fund to help fill an estimated $146 million hole in next fiscal year’s budget.

Originally, funds that go to the counties in which the state’s two thoroughbred horse tracks, including Jefferson County, and two greyhound tracks are located would have lost 15 percent of those funds. Also, the municipalities in the counties where the tracks are located would have lost 15 percent of the funds going to them.

However, after some intense lobbying, the counties and municipalities were taken out of the bill.

The Jefferson County Commission would have lost about $660,000 and the five municipalities in Jefferson County would have lost about $315,000 combined.

In the original bill, funds that go to the purse fund that pays winners of races and awards for West Virginia breeders would have been cut by 15 percent, amounting to a loss of about $6 million to the thoroughbred industry in Jefferson County.

In the bill that passed the House Wednesday, the cuts to the purse fund and breeders awards was cut by 10 percent.

Originally, the casinos were not going to have to take any cuts, but in the approved legislation, casinos’ capital reinvestment and modernization funds will each be cut by 10 percent. Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races stands to lose about $800,000 combined from those two funds.

Delegate Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson, said she had actively worked against the bill from its introduction. She said it was detrimental to the thoroughbred industry of Jefferson County and could cripple the local economy…

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