Grey2K To Try Again To Stop Greyhound Racing
WHEELING — A national group seeking to abolish greyhound racing in West Virginia will try again when the State Legislature convenes in 2021, but local lawmakers agree their efforts likely won’t get out of the starting gate.
Grey2K has targeted the elimination of greyhound racing in West Virginia in recent years, while seeking to eliminate the West Virginia Greyhound Breeding fund. A bill to eliminate the fund — and also abolish the licensing requirement for casinos with table games that they offer greyhound racing — most recently failed to pass in 2020.
Grey2K executive director Carey Theil said the group is seeking a gradual elimination of the dog racing in the state in 2021.
“I would like to see a bill that is a phase-out — one that would give more financial support to employees to help with the phase-out,” he said.
“I don’t think it would make sense to end it immediately. I think that would be a mistake, but I don’t have a vote.”
Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, seems adamant no legislation pertaining to the elimination of dog racing will be considered by the legislature this year.
Past Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, an opponent of dog racing, was not re-elected this year. Weld said new Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, hasn’t been a strong supporter of such bills in the past, and will have other priorities this session.
“I don’t think there is much of a chance we will see that legislation this year. Looking at the landscape of the Senate after the election, the vote count didn’t get any better for the out-of-state entity wanting to press that issue in West Virginia,” he said.
“If I were a betting man, I would go with the word of the guy who is actually in the Senate, not the guy who is actually in Massachusetts,” Weld said of Theil, whose organization is based in Arlington, Massachusetts.
Grey2K “seems to feel they are the savior” for all dogs who participate in dog racing, Weld said.
“The problem with that is that in all the states where they have been active, they have played no role whatsoever in helping to adopt all of these dogs who are ‘out of a job,'” he said. “If they really wanted to do everyone a favor, it is actually to try and clean up the mess they make in a state. But they don’t.”
Weld and his wife Alex this fall adopted a retired racing greyhound from the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack.
“At this point, Alex and I have played a greater role in the adoption of greyhound racers than Grey2K ever has,” he said.
Sen. William Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, said he was aware of Grey2K’s efforts to bring the bill back.
“But it’s not up to Grey2K, it is up to the Senate and House as to whether it is to run,” he said. “I know from working with Sen. Blair last session he wasn’t a proponent of ending the industry. He was willing to hear from both sides when he was chairman of the finance committee.
“I know he was someone who never seemed very thrilled with shutting the industry down. He understands it employs hundreds of people, and generates millions of dollars in revenue for the state. He never seemed very excited about that concept.”
On the House side, Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, doesn’t think changes in membership should make it any easier for Grey2K to get legislation passed.
“On face value, maybe it looks that way, but I don’t think that’s accurate — especially with Sen. Weld’s involvement to educate his colleagues, and his role in the Senate,” she said.
She said it would be up to she and Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio to educate the new House members on the issue. Fluharty didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment.
Two greyhound race tracks are located in West Virginia — the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack in Wheeling and Tri-State Greyhound Park in Cross Lanes.
Under state laws pertaining to video lottery at race tracks, casinos with dog tracks and licenses for video lottery and table gambling are required to send 1.5 percent of the revenue collected from these games to the West Virginia Greyhound Breeding Development Fund. The state then distributes money from the fund back to dog breeders, which most years is about $15 million.
Theil described the situation this way. Suddenly no one was drinking Coca Cola, but to be able to save the industry a law was passed requiring stores who sell Pepsi to sell Coca Cola — and give some of the profits from the Pepsi sales to Coca Cola.
Theil said there are two talking points being circulated with regard to Grey2K’s efforts to abolish dog racing in West Virginia. He called these words “pre-emptive attacks” by critics.
“The first is that dog racing opponents should not be trusted because we wrongly claim (money received by breeders from the breeding development fund) is a taxpayer subsidy,” Theil said. “That is not the position of (Grey2K). That has never been the position.
“It is my position that this is a subsidy derived from state gambling revenues, and that greyhound racing is being propped up by revenue that comes from other forms of gambling — table games and slot machines. I think that is a little disingenuous.”
Secondly, Theil said dog racing supporters contend if the breeders funds were to be eliminated the money it contains can’t be re-allocated. Theil disagrees and said it can.
He said his organization has studied the legislation that initially established the breeder’s fund in 2016, and believes the money would go into the state’s general fund. Unsuccessful legislation proposed in 2020 to eliminate the fund also would have re-allocated any money in the fund to the state’s general fund, according to Theil.
That 1.5 percent of the table games and video lottery take that previously went into the fund would still exist, and could be used elsewhere at the Legislature’s discretion, according to Theil.
“If you end greyhound racing, and you end the state dog racing mandate, that money doesn’t go away,” he said. “That percentage can be re-allocated anywhere. Lawmakers could decide that money stays at the track. Lawmakers could decide the money goes to the capital improvement fund. Lawmakers could decide it could be used to fund horse racing. Lawmakers could sweep the money into the general fund, and use it for other purposes.”
All past legislation pertaining to the issue would place the revenue in the State Excess Lottery Fund, making it usable for other purposes, according to Theil.
“The claim the money can’t be reallocated or would disappear is just factually not true,” he said.