Rein In Subsidies For W.Va. Racing

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is on the right track regarding subsidies for horse and dog racing in West Virginia, but is coming out of the gate too slowly.

At Tomblin’s request, a bill has been introduced in the state Senate with the goal of increasing funds he and legislators can use to balance the state budget.

It is a complex bill, involving several statutes that require money from legalized gambling to be used for specific purposes. The bottom line is to pump more than $39 million a year into the general fund budget during the next two years.

Proceeds from legalized gambling are earmarked for a variety of purposes. One is payments to the state Infrastructure Fund, of about $40 million a year. Tomblin wants to reduce that to $20 million during the next two years.

Also included in the governor’s plan are 15 percent reductions in other payouts from gambling proceeds. Cities and counties where racetracks are located, including Ohio and Hancock counties, would lose about $4 million a year.

Under current law, the racing dog and horse industries receive huge subsidies from gambling proceeds. Money to pay winners at the two dog- and two horse-racing tracks, along with funds paid to thoroughbred and greyhound breeders, is included.

Tomblin’s proposed 15-percent cut would slice an estimated $8.5 million a year from subsidies for horse and dog racing.

That is a good start, but the governor and legislators should not stop there.

For years, the horse- and dog-racing industries have reaped enormous benefits from legalized gambling. Meanwhile, the racetracks have moved on. Tracks at Wheeling, Chester, Cross Lanes and Charles Town have big casinos. Most of the gamblers who patronize them could not care less whether there are thoroughbreds or greyhounds on the tracks outside.

Yet the state continues to subsidize racing.

No other business or industry receives anything approaching that level of support from state government. Retail store owners are not subsidized. Manufacturers do not receive checks from the state simply because they operate in West Virginia. Small “mom and pop” businesses do not get money from Charleston – they send it there.

Subsidies for the dog- and horse-racing industries should have been eliminated years ago. Tomblin’s proposal would trim their subsidies by just 15 percent.

Now, at a time when the governor and lawmakers are scraping to balance the budget, would be an appropriate time to end, or at least phase out, the subsidies entirely. Tomblin’s bill should be amended to make that happen.