Pass Kessler Version of Bill

Anyone doubting the selfish greed of some in the dog and horse racing industries should take a look at what has happened in an attempt to save about a hundred local jobs and, in the process, avoid losing millions of dollars for local and state governments in West Virginia. That look will make the avarice of some in racing clear.

As we have reported, Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack says it is losing money on once-lucrative table gambling. That is because of new casinos in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Casino President and General Manager Jim Simms has said his facility may not renew its table gambling license unless it gets a break on the $2.5 million annual state fee.

In addition to license fees charged to the four racetrack/casinos, the state and local governments also get part of the “take” from table gambling. Shutting down the tables at Wheeling Island could deprive West Virginia of a large chunk of revenue. It also could result in the loss of about 105 casino jobs.

The best reaction to that came from state Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall. He introduced a bill to reduce the fee to as low as $1.5 million for three casinos, including those at Wheeling Island, Mountaineer Park and Tri-State racetracks. The fee would remain at $2.5 million for Charles Town, which continues to be very profitable.

But before the bill could get out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, it was amended to lower the fee for Charles Town, too. Another change, by state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, would recover some money by cutting the amount the state pays to help racetracks buy new video gambling machines. The Charles Town casino/racetrack is in Snyder’s district.

Finally, a critical change was made in the bill. Initially, Kessler envisioned making it revenue-neutral by reducing the amount of money that goes to purse funds used to pay owners of winning horses and dogs at the four racetrack/casinos. The funds would have been cut by $3 million. But that provision was amended out of the bill.

In some ways, the amended bill is worse than nothing. It continues the enormous, illogical subsidies provided to the horse and dog racing industries in West Virginia.

It also shows some in those businesses are willing to risk having the bill killed, which could result in loss of the Wheeling Island table gambling facility, before they give up any of the gravy train they have enjoyed for many years.

If – and only if – the bill can be restored to the form in which Kessler introduced it, legislators should approve it to provide the Wheeling Island casino with the break it appears to need to stay in business. While the measure would cost the state $1 million later this year, it probably would avoid loss of even more in the future.

Then, perhaps later this year, legislators should take another look at those incredible subsidies to the dog and horse racing industries. No other type of business in our state receives such assistance. It should be eliminated, with the money going to local and state governments rather than greyhound and thoroughbred breeders.