CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's hard to root for either side in the battle between thoroughbred owners and breeders and casino operators over whose funds will be raided in order to lower the state table games license fees from $2.5 million to as low as $1.5 million a year (SB615).
On one hand, there's no industry that is subsidized by the state to the level of thoroughbred and greyhound racing -- most recently to the tune of $106.6 million of state Lottery funding in the 2012 budget year. From that perspective, the original bill's proposal to take $3 million out of the purse funds seems sound.
Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, who has inherited the mantle of defender of the thoroughbred industry now that Delegate John Doyle has retired, amended the bill to restore the $3 million to the purse funds, but take $5 million a year out of a $10 million matching fund that allows the racetrack-casinos to upgrade slot machines to compete with larger, fancier casinos in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
That sounds harsh at a time when the state's casinos are being squeezed by out-of-state competitors. In fact, the reason for the original bill is to avoid having Wheeling Island surrender its table games license on June 30.
Harsh, except that the groups that own the state casinos also own the out-of-state competitors. Gaming giant Penn National, which gets the biggest chunk of the state matching funds each year for its casino in Charles Town, also operates the Hollywood Casino and a separate "racino" in Columbus, Ohio, that are effectively killing Wheeling Island's business...
One of the ironic things about the purse and breeders' funds is that they are predominately tied to video slots revenues at the racetrack-casinos, so that the breeders' funds would be unaffected and purse funds only marginally affected, even if no one is watching or betting on the live races -- which seems to be getting close to the reality, at least for greyhound racing.
These days at Mardi Gras, a good crowd for greyhound racing is about 100, I'm told. Compare that to the heyday of dog racing at Tri-State in the mid-1980s, when the papers published daily race previews and results, "Popsicle Pete" was in the sports headlines, and paid attendance -- yes, you had to buy a ticket to get into the racetrack -- in 1986 was 686,574.
Even though attendance has dropped off, the greyhound breeders' fund has only declined slightly (again, driven by video slots revenue, not live betting) with $6.2 million paid out in the 2012 budget year.
Top 10 recipients in 2012: Monroe Racing, Inc., $682,726; McMillion Kennel, $644,952; Joseph A. Douglas, $495,063; Ricardo Pacheco, $450,022; Rondis Cavender, $356,286; Greg Geter, $317,755; Jack Stolirchick, $245,351; Freda M. Tomblin, $220,495; Dean R. Miner, $208,167; and James B. Jackson, $207,633.