Proposal Draws Fire From Commissioners and Racers

NEWELL – Local racetrack representatives believe a bill pending in the West Virginia Legislature could reduce by 15 percent the video lottery proceeds that help fund local government projects and the horse racing industry in Hancock County.

“This bill would annihilate the racing industry,” said John W. Baird, president of the Mountaineer Park Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. “It will cause thousands of residents to sell their homes, businesses and farms to move to another state.”

Baird was set to testify Tuesday at a public hearing on the bill. Hancock County Commissioners Dan Greathouse and Jeff Davis also planned to attend the hearing.

“It’s a very dangerous bill,” Greathouse said. “It would probably, at the very least, take $450,000 a year from Hancock County.”

Greathouse said the county uses video lottery money for special projects and also distributes a portion annually to the county’s three cities – Chester, New Cumberland and Weirton.

“That money we get is a big part of our budget. When you cut $450,000, you’re going to put a crimp in our budget,” he said.

Two percent of the revenue from the video lottery machines at Mountaineer goes to Hancock County commissioners, who share those profits with the cities based on their population. Since 2002, commissioners have distributed $7.6 million in video lottery revenue, Greathouse said.

Greathouse recently touted the video lottery money – saved up over the last several years – as a big reason why the county has been able to undertake a variety of capital improvement projects. He added it also helps to balance the county’s budget.

Meanwhile, Baird said the economic impact of Mountaineer on Hancock County goes beyond the direct employment numbers, which, in 2013, were between 1,270 and 1,300 people.

“This just doesn’t affect jobs, it affects families,” he said. “Families who work hard seven days a week to care for their animals. Despite how the media portray owners and trainers in the racing industry, we are not the wealthy individuals you see at the Kentucky Derby. We are farmers who take care of our animals and provide for our families.”