CHARLESTON, W.Va. – At a time of extreme job loss in West Virginia, the state Legislature has been debating initiatives that could effectively eliminate West Virginia’s thoroughbred racing industry – and the thousands of jobs it provides, according to representatives of the state’s horse racing industry.
During a news conference at the State Capitol in Charleston today, industry officials questioned the legislative action.
“The mere threat of passing legislation which would decouple racing from casino operations in West Virginia creates tremendous instability in the thoroughbred breeding and racing industry in our state,” said Delegate Paul Espinosa, who represents Jefferson County. “Thoroughbred breeders have choices where they conduct their operations and West Virginia has been a desirable place for them to do business, but the current atmosphere of uncertainty has breeders looking elsewhere.”
Espinosa said more than 5,300 West Virginians are employed by the horse racing industry in Jefferson and Hancock Counties alone, in addition to the millions of dollars that the industry provides to local governments and the State budget.
“I implore my colleagues in the Legislature, as well as Governor Tomblin, to take steps to ensure the viability of the horse racing industry in West Virginia into the future.”
Espinosa said there have been various pieces of legislation introduced during the legislative process that could negatively impact the horse racing industry.
Senator Herb Snyder, representing Jefferson County, said, “Casino gaming at our racetracks, which fund many worthwhile local and state initiatives, was predicated on approval by local voters in counties where racetracks are located. One of the objectives of the Racetrack Video Lottery Act was that proceeds from Racetrack Video Lottery be used in part for the purpose of preserving live racing at the state’s tracks and promoting the development of green space used for the training and breeding of thoroughbreds. This was achieved through the dedication of a portion of Racetrack Video Lottery revenue to the purse and breeder funds. This is what the voters in Jefferson County understood when they voted to authorize Racetrack Video Lottery at Charles Town Races. Now those principals are being threatened and thousands of West Virginia jobs – as well as millions of dollars in local/state tax revenue – hang in the balance. West Virginia needs to keep its promise to the citizens of Jefferson County.”
Joe Funkhouser, a member of the Board of Directors of the Charles Town Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, said, “The thoroughbred racing industry in West Virginia has been a part of solutions to help the state budget and pay down debt. Our industry took a permanent ten percent reduction in the Breeder and Purse Fund in 2014. We also accepted supplementary charges to help pay down the long term debt in the Old Workers’ Compensation Fund. While other industries have participated in this supplementary charge, those industries will be relieved of this debt once the ‘Old Fund’ is paid off later this year. Unfortunately, the thoroughbred industry has been left out of receiving that relief.”
Delegate Jill Upson, who also represents Jefferson County, said real West Virginians will be impacted by the actions of state policymakers. “We’re talking about breeders, trainers, exercise riders, stable hands, jockeys, grooms, veterinarians, farmers, as well as commercial interests like farm supply and equipment stores, banks, retail establishments, automobile dealers, restaurants, hotels and convenience stores, just to name a few. The threat of losing jobs in Jefferson County is real and families are terrified.”
“The thoroughbred racing industry is a huge component of the economy in Hancock and Jefferson Counties,” said Jana Tetrault of the Mountaineer Park Horsemen’s Association. “I urge our legislature and governor to do all they can to keep our West Virginians working.”
For additional information, contact Maria Catignani at (304) 670-6985 or [email protected].