West Virginia Spent $5.3 Million to Subsidize Greyhound Racing in 2015 in Wheeling and Charleston

WHEELING -Racing and breeding greyhounds in West Virginia can prove quite lucrative, as one breeder received $511,932.90 in subsidies from the Greyhound Breeding Development Fund in 2015 alone.

All told, breeders collected more than $5.3 million from this fund last year, according to records obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request the Sunday News-Register filed with the West Virginia Racing Commission, which oversees the industry in the Mountain State. This money is in addition to the purse funds kennel operators can claim by winning races, which can yield substantially more profit.

A pair of bills – House Bill 4625 and Senate Bill 641 – working their way through the state Legislature would end subsidies for greyhound racing in West Virginia. Proponents believe the savings would help the cash-strapped state balance its budget, but a pair of Northern Panhandle legislators believe they would put as many as 1,700 people out of work by eliminating the subsidies.

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said he voted for the bill that passed by a vote of 29-5 in the upper chamber Wednesday. However, he said this was before he knew how many jobs were at stake – by some estimates, about 1,700 throughout West Virginia.

“While we may save $10 million by cutting out the subsidies, we may lose $20 million by putting 1,700 people out of work,” he said.

Greyhounds race at both Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and the Mardi Gras Casino and Resort near Charleston. Greyhound breeders qualifying for the aforementioned funds are required to live in West Virginia.

Prior to West Virginia leaders approving video lottery slots in 1994, greyhound racing was the primary function of both the Wheeling and Charleston tracks. Once live poker and other forms of table gambling joined the slot machines in 2007, some in the Mountain State began to wonder if greyhound racing should continue receiving subsidies – or be allowed to continue at all.

According to the commission, one breeder – Patrick McMillon – took in a total of $980,634.35 from the funds for years 2014 and 2015, while Monroe Racing Inc. claimed $980,978.94 during the two-year period. Ricardo Pacheco collected $770,469.06 over the two years, while Greg Geter gathered $596,803.42.

Kennels associated with the family of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin took in the following amounts during the last two years: Tomblin Kennel Inc. – $201,759.83; Carl Tomblin – $7,508.97; Carl Tomblin II – $123,791.28; and the Estate of Freda M. Tomblin – $212,111.32.

Of the Northern Panhandle senators, only Sen. Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, opposed the Senate’s bill to end greyhound subsidies upon the Wednesday vote, but Kessler hopes the matter comes up again.

“It has gotten a lot more enlightening over the last couple of days. I have been approached about the job impact. I just regret that they did not bring this to my attention beforehand,” he said.

Kessler said he had been under the impression the kennels operating at Wheeling Island and Mardi Gras were “operated by folks from Florida.”

“We have seen a massive loss of jobs here in the state over the last several years,” he said. “If it would come up again, I will stand with the workers.”

Meanwhile, House Bill 4625 would also end subsidies for greyhound racing in West Virginia, but would mandate the tracks continue offering the races – minus the state funding. Delegate David Evans, R-Marshall, said he opposes this concept.

“As a delegate from our area, I think you have to support that,” Evans said of greyhound racing. “I want to see it continue. A lot of people are employed over there. We don’t want to stop the funding for that.”

Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort in Chester and the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle showcase thoroughbred horses instead of greyhounds. The pending greyhound legislation would not impact the Thoroughbred Development Fund, nor the purses given to the winners of thoroughbred races.