By CASEY JUNKINS Staff Writer
WHEELING - Breeding and racing greyhounds in West Virginia can be a very profitable business. Just ask city resident Dean Miner, who received $706,571 from the West Virginia Greyhound Breeder Development Fund in 2007.
"The breeders' fund is set up to help us add to the economy of West Virginia," Miner said regarding the purpose of the Greyhound Fund and the West Virginia Thoroughbred Breeder Development Fund.
West Virginia breeders of thoroughbreds like these, shown racing at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort, are eligible to benefit from the West Virginia Thoroughbred Breeder Development Fund.
The state distributed $12.6 million in taxpayer money to breeders in 2007, with more than $7.5 million going to greyhound breeders and $5.06 million going to thoroughbred horse breeders.
These numbers are up considerably from 2006, when greyhound breeders were paid $6.3 million and horse breeders received $4.7 million.
The latest increase in the funds is part of a larger trend of them growing exponentially over the years. In 1997, breeders received only $514,865 from the Greyhound Fund, or $7 million less than they got in 2007.
As for the Thoroughbred Fund, horse breeders received only $421,778 in 1997, which was $4.6 million less than 2007.
Money for both funds is drawn from tax proceeds on the video lottery machines at the state's four racetracks - Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort in Chester, Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center in Cross Lanes and Charles Town Races and Slots in Charles Town. Three-quarters of 1 percent of video gambling revenue is placed into each of the funds.
The funds could receive an even bigger boost this year, as the Legislature provided that 2 percent of revenue from table gambling would go to the breeders' funds. Currently, only the Wheeling Island and Mountaineer tracks offer table gambling.
According to the West Virginia Racing Association, the amount distributed from the breeders' funds is equal to what is paid to the breeders through the purse funds. This amount depends upon how well a particular animal performs in a certain race.
For example, a greyhound breeder who wins $1,000 in a race at Wheeling Island would also receive an additional $1,000 through the Greyhound Fund.
Miner races his greyhounds at the Wheeling Island and Tri-State tracks. Thoroughbreds run at Mountaineer and Charles Town.
Financial information obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request with the West Virginia Racing Commission shows that Miner's $706,571 led the way for greyhound breeders in the state. Tomblin Kennel Inc., a greyhound kennel affiliated with state Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, claimed $263,604 in breeders fund money.
Other greyhound breeders earning more than $200,000 in 2007 included Dianna Douglas with $611,590; James Jackson at $543,726; William Gibson, $458,276; Louis Strong, $334,622; Country Roads Kennel, $304,264; Kermit Klosterman, $302,132; Riggin Racing, $299,918; Greg Strong, $296,327; William Schweizer, $274,750; Rondis Cavender, $266,327; Greg Geter, $215,544; and Richard Pierce, $210,422.
Two thoroughbred breeders earned more than $200,000, as James W. Casey received $606,205 and O'Sullivan Farms earned $422,511.
Miner said the amount he and his fellow breeders earn is not as much as it seems.
"After paying taxes, buying food, paying for veterinarian bills and paying about 20 employees, I am not getting anywhere near that much," he said of the $706,571.
Miner believes it is unfair to judge what breeders are earning based on gross revenue because it does not account for the expenses paid for employees, food, medicine and other expenses.
"If a gas station sells $2.3 million worth of gas, they surely are not bringing in that much as profit," he said, noting the breeders funds are necessary for the greyhound and thoroughbred industries to survive in West Virginia.
Raamie Barker, administrative assistant to Tomblin, said, "The state is not subsidizing anything in the breeders funds."
"All of that money is generated from bets at the tracks, whether it is from slot machines or tables, or from the animals," he added.
Barker said the funds are part of "an internal business arrangement."
"If we are going to have greyhound racing in West Virginia, we need to support the industry," he said.
State Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, also believes the breeders funds are worthwhile investments.
"The racing industry was here before we had slots or table gambling. I have no problem with keeping the horse and dog industries viable because it helps to provide a variety of entertainment at the tracks," he said.
Delegate Jack Yost, D-Brooke, said he is not familiar with the breeders funds.
"I don't really know a lot about them; it is something you don't hear a lot about in Charleston," he said.
Delegate Tal Hutchins, D-Ohio, said those in the racing industry frequently tell legislators the funds are needed to keep the industry vibrant.
"If it lets them have quality racing at the tracks, it is good," he said.
Delegate Orphy Klempa, D-Ohio, also believes the breeders funds are good for the Mountain State's economy.
"The horse and dog industries are vital to our racetracks and must be taken care of. We have to keep them going because they were here before the slot machines or table games," he said.
Klempa also said the funds lead to jobs for state residents.
"We cannot lose any more jobs in West Virginia, and cutting back on the breeders funds would probably lead to job losses," he said.