Rethink Dog, Horse Racing

State government’s “take” from gambling at West Virginia’s four racetracks, including those in Wheeling and Chester, has decreased as casinos opened in surrounding states during recent years. Even the Charles Town track, once a gold mine, has suffered with Maryland’s decision to get into the game.

Unfortunately, West Virginia is hooked on gambling in its various forms. Around $400 million a year flows into state coffers from racetrack casinos, small gambling machine operations and the ticket-based lottery. Substantial declines, particularly from the tracks, have been recorded during recent years, however.

During a panel discussion on the subject last week, John Cavacini, president of the West Virginia Racing Association, made an excellent point. “The survival of the (gambling industry) will depend on the marketing aspect,” he stressed. “We have to have an attraction in addition to gaming.”

Cavacini is right. Gambling machines and table gambling are more or less the same, wherever they are offered. If West Virginia wants to attract the out-of-state gamblers its casinos need to survive – and keep paying into the state treasury – our venues will have to be attractive in other ways.

Continuing horse and dog racing at the tracks is Cavacini’s emphasis, of course. But doing that requires enormous subsidies, money that otherwise could have gone to the state or been used by casinos to make themselves more attractive in other ways.

The state already spends too much on horse and dog racing. It also provides subsidies to the casinos themselves, in the form of a $100 million, 10-year program to help them upgrade gambling machines.

More subsidies are not the answer. Neither is continuing to support a horse- and dog-racing industry that could not survive otherwise. No other type of business in the state receives such assistance.

State legislators should take an objective look at the casinos – starting with whether money now spent on dogs and horses would be more productive if used in other ways.