Be Careful What You Wish For

Some of those involved in horse racing at the Charles Town, W.Va., track are objecting to a change in how their sport is regulated. They have taken their complaint to the state Supreme Court.

Someone ought to remind them to be careful what they wish for, because they might get it. Then, they ought to get it – all of it.

Members of the West Virginia Racing Commission recently agreed to shift some regulatory duties away from the attorney general’s office and to the state Lottery Commission. Interpreting horse racing laws and preparing legislation related to the sport are among the tasks to be taken over by the commission.

In a filing with the high court, the Charles Town Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association objects to the change. According to a published report, the group wants the attorney general’s office to continue handling the duties in question because that official is elected to a post required by the state constitution. That makes the office more accountable than the Lottery Commission, the association contends.

Fine. Let the horsemen’s association have its way. Its members seem to get whatever they want from West Virginians in other ways, so why not this one?

At the same time, however, if the horse racers do not want to be associated with the Lottery Commission, they should get their way on that, too – but in everything, not just regulations.

As we have reported many times for several years, the horse and dog racing industries in West Virginia enjoy a sweet, very lucrative deal.

To support both racing activities and thoroughbred and greyhound breeders, millions of dollars a year raked in by the casinos are diverted from both those businesses and state and local governments.

In 2012, the state’s two thoroughbred racetracks (at Chester and Charles Town) had to spend $56.9 million of proceeds from gambling to support purse funds for horse races. Another $9.1 million went to a special fund to support thoroughbred breeders. During the same year, incidentally, the greyhound racing purse funds at the Wheeling Island and Cross Lanes tracks raked in $20.1 million in gambling proceeds, while another $5.9 million went to a greyhound breeders fund.

Every dime of the money was funneled to the horse and dog racing industries by the Lottery Commission. It’s state law.

But the Charles Town Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association apparently doesn’t trust the commission and doesn’t want it regulating the sport.

Again, fine. If the horse racers don’t want to be associated with the Lottery Commission, let’s cut all ties – including the purse and breeders funds – between that agency and those involved with the sport.

That would allow tens of millions of dollars from legalized gambling to go back to taxpayers, rather than to the greedy horse racers. It is an excellent idea, and West Virginians ought to be happy the Charles Town association brought it up.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ought to call a special session of the Legislature for this summer, to cut all ties between horse racers and the Lottery Commission.

I know of no other business that is subsidized to the extent the horse and dog racing industries enjoy in West Virginia. Without the money racetracks are required to hand to the ponies and puppies, thoroughbred and greyhound racing would be in deep trouble. Would that cost some jobs in the Mountain State? Certainly. But, again, when other types of businesses are in trouble, the state doesn’t bail them out.

In effect, members of the Charles Town Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association are not just looking a gift horse in the mouth – they’re attempting to tell him any strings attached to his largess will be dictated by them.

Surely West Virginians have had enough of that attitude. Let’s just call a halt to it.

Myer can be reached at