Stop letting state go to the dogs

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. — When a school teacher in West Virginia is laid off, the state’s effort to cushion her fall is limited primarily to unemployment benefits. When a small businessman who may have invested heavily in equipment and inventory to sell goods to state government is told his product no longer is being used, no one in Charleston offers him a “buyout.”

So why are state legislators thinking of paying racing greyhound dog owners $36.5 million to, in effect, go away?

Dog and horse racing exist in West Virginia because of state subsidies that at one time totaled about $90 million a year. The money comes from proceeds of gambling at the four racetracks – Wheeling Island and Cross Lanes for dogs, Mountaineer in Chester and Hollywood in Charles Town for horses.

But the bottom has fallen out of dog racing during the past few years. Fewer people attend races and far less money is bet on them inside the state.

West Virginia should never have set up subsidies for dog and horse racing in the first place. No other business or industry gets that kind of state support.

Legislators have concluded finally that the state ought to get out of the greyhound racing business. Bills that would shut off the subsidies and end racing as early as this summer are pending in the Legislature.

Perhaps to avoid a political fight, some lawmakers think racing greyhound owners ought to be compensated. A state Senate bill includes $36.5 million, to be paid out over three years, to the greyhound owners. The measure also would provide $600,000 for shelters to arrange adoptions for unwanted greyhounds.

The buyout proposal does not sit well with some lawmakers – and it should not. Again, any number of people lose their jobs or investments all the time because of changes in local and state government policy. No one offers to compensate them.

And, by the way, no one has suggested “buyouts” for racetrack employees who would lose their jobs if the bill is enacted.

Still, some legislators may view the plan as a bargain. Between purse funds used to pay race winners and “development” programs for racing greyhound breeders, about $29.3 million in gambling casino proceeds are diverted. An end to dog racing would mean the $36.5 million “buyout” would be covered in about 15 months.

Clearly, West Virginia needs to get out of an expensive, improper relationship with the dog racing industry. Lawmakers should work toward a smaller “buyout” – recognizing the greyhound industry already has profited handsomely from its partnership with state government.

Once a reasonable compromise is reached, the Legislature should end its unsavory arrangement with dog racers.

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