Handicapping West Virginia’s casinos

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. –Moves by state legislators to eliminate government subsidies for greyhound racing are understandable. No other industry – except for horse racing – benefits from such support. Ending it to free up money for budget balancing is attractive.

But if they rescind subsidies for dog racing, lawmakers should be careful not to inflict unnecessary costs on the two tracks where it occurs, at Wheeling Island and Cross Lanes.

In both the state Senate and House of Delegates, bills to scrap the subsidies have been passed. The measures differ on a critical point, however.

Part of the process of legalizing gambling in West Virginia many years ago was a requirement that to offer gambling machines, racetracks had to provide dog or horse racing, too.

On Tuesday, state senators voted 29-5 to eliminate state subsidies for dog racing. Money paid to breeders of racing greyhounds and to tracks to help cover prizes paid to race winners would be affected.

About $11.3 million now earmarked for those purposes each year could be used instead to balance the state budget. Senators found another $10 million by killing a program that helps casinos upgrade facilities.

One section of the Senate bill “decouples” casinos from greyhound racing. If the measure becomes law, neither Wheeling Island nor Cross Lanes would have to offer racing.

But the House bill eliminating subsidies for greyhounds has no decoupling provision. The Wheeling Island and Cross Lanes racetracks would have to stay in operation, even if that cost them money to, in effect, replace the subsidy funds.

That could be a major blow to the casinos, quite possibly jeopardizing hundreds of jobs that have nothing to do with racing.

Whether either bill to eliminate subsidies for dog racing will be enacted is still up in the air. But if lawmakers proceed – and that seems likely – they should make it a clean break. They should not require tracks to offer racing, but leave it up to officials at Wheeling Island and Cross Lanes to make that decision.

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