Phil Kabler's Statehouse Beat columns on Feb. 10 and March 3 seem as if they were written by the West Virginia Racing Association. In fact, he speaks on its behalf when stating, "as always, the management of the state's four racetrack casinos would be more than happy to have them become casino-casinos."
While Mr. Kabler attempts to blame horse breeders for stopping Gov. Manchin's 2009 requested bill (with the WVRA's support) to consolidate agencies into a Gaming Commission, he fails to acknowledge one of the many reasons the House defeated this bill (lack of protections for each agency's participants and increased chances of regulatory capture). One only needs to read the law to discover the Legislature's intent for racetrack video lottery and table games: "Horse and dog racing and breeding play a critical role in the economy of this state, enhance the revenue collected at the racetracks, contribute vital revenues to the counties and municipalities in which the activities are conducted, provide for significant employment and protect and preserve greenspace."
Mr. Kabler seems to blame the racing industries for the state's financial issues, but a 2010 economic impact report by Tom Witt of WVU's Bureau of Business and Economic Research and College of Business and Economics does not subscribe to that notion. (Horse racing and breeding at Charles Town have a $210 million annual economic impact on the West Virginia economy).
Moreover, the majority of revenues from the racing industries actually stay in circulation in West Virginia, unlike casino profits. Thousands of West Virginians rely on the horse and dog racing industries for their livelihoods.
While Mr. Kabler acknowledges "lottery revenues being squeezed by new casino competition in border states," he fails to acknowledge that such new competition is due in part from Penn National (owner of Charles Town) and MTR Gaming (owner of Mountaineer) and Delaware North (owner of Wheeling Island) lobbying and spending in the neighboring states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland to build this new competition with revenue that may have been generated in West Virginia. Perhaps the billions in racetrack casino profits in West Virginia since 1996 would have been better used to advance West Virginia's interests if the state owned and/or operated these destination racetrack casinos and kept these revenues in state.
The WVRA uses competition from neighboring states, which includes casinos owned by members of the WVRA, to persuade the Legislature to grant it more favors.
Senate Bill 455 was introduced March 6. The racetracks want to take authority away from the state Racing Commission and change the law to have fewer racing days with fewer races, and not only take all the money away from the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association so they can't operate, but also to reduce the Purse Fund to pay for the racetracks' license fee and table games privilege tax reduction for which they are asking.
Yes, the racetracks would be more than happy to become casino-casinos.
Watson is a former president of the Board of Directors of the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.