Racing Industry Greed Incredible

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you: Some in the horse and dog racing industries have shown breathtaking rapaciousness, without regard to how badly that may hurt their fellow West Virginians.

Subsidized by the state to the tune of around $100 million a year, the dog and horse racing industries have it made. And state law requires their very existence. No other business or industry enjoys that sort of guarantee.

Here’s how it works: The state’s two dog racing tracks and two horse racing tracks are required, in exchange for permission to operate gambling venues, to host races. They also must pay certain percentages of the take from casino tables and machine gambling into special funds that benefit racing dog and horse owners and breeders.

During the 2012 fiscal year, about $92 million was paid into those funds. Add other subsidies such as money for the state Racing Commission, and the total exceeds $100 million.

Competition from other states has hurt the Northern Panhandle racetrack-casinos – Wheeling Island and Mountaineer – badly, however. Outgoing Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack President and General Manager Jim Simms has said his facility is losing money on table gambling. Unless it gets a break on the $2.5 million annual state license fee, Wheeling Island may stop offering table gambling.

State Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, devised a plan to give Wheeling Island and two other tracks a break on the license fees. It would have been funded by reducing the amount of gambling proceeds diverted to “purse funds” paid to the owners of winning horses and dogs.

Kessler envisioned using $3 million in purse fund money for the purpose. That is 3 percent of the total in subsidies going to the racing industry.

But, aided by state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, some in the thoroughbred horse racing business balked. Snyder amended the Kessler bill to retain the $3 million in purse funding. Instead, in the Snyder version, the money would come from an account that helps casinos update their gambling machines.

Unwillingness to give up just a tiny bit of the pot of gold the dog and horse racing industries reap, for the good of the racetrack/casinos that are required by law to host them, is mind-boggling greed.

At last report, state senators had killed Snyder’s amendment. A bill providing relief to the casinos by dipping into “administrative” state lottery accounts had been devised.

It should be enacted. The Wheeling Island casino needs the break to retain table gambling, which is a source of revenue for local and state governments.

But the racing industry’s greed should be remembered by legislators – and their constituents. Later this year, lawmakers should begin slashing the $100 million in subsidies – or eliminating it.