Elimination of greyhound breeding fund under consideration

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Senate Finance Committee is considering whether to end the Greyhound Breeding Development Fund, a move that’s already a piece of the GOP-backed budget framework in the Legislature.


Two fiscal notes, plus the GOP’s budget framework discussed Monday, attribute $15 million in savings to eliminating the greyhound breeding development fund. The fiscal notes were supplied by the state Lottery Commission and the state Racing Commission.


Gov. Jim Justice has opposed doing away with the fund.


The first step in eliminating the fund would be passage the Finance Committee, which discussed the bill on Tuesday afternoon but delayed a vote until Wednesday because a committee substitute to the bill had just been introduced.


The bill would end the fund and transfer the money to the state Excess Lottery Revenue Fund for appropriation by the Legislature. Money in the fund comes from a portion of video lottery and table gambling revenue at the Wheeling and Charleston casinos.


But it would allow tracks where greyhound racing currently takes place to maintain a video lottery license even if greyhound racing were to be discontinued there. That is commonly referred to as “de-coupling.”


Senator John Unger, D-Berkeley, expressed several concerns with the bill.


Unger wondered if dog racing provides an attraction that differentiates those tracks from others, encouraging people to gamble at those tracks rather than others that might be closer to their homes.


“I guess we’re assuming everyone will still come,” Unger commented to the committee.


Unger suggested some people would ask themselves, “Why should we travel all the way to West Virginia when we could just stay in Pennsylvania, or wherever.”


He suggested that if that attraction withers for some casino-goers, so might the associated revenue.


“We can’t bank that we’re going to get that $15 million any more,” Unger said.


Steve Sarras, president of the West Virginia Kennel Owners Association, told the committee he believes more will be lost through removing support for greyhound breeders.


“This bill is Pandora’s box,” Sarras told the committee.


He said eliminating support for the greyhound racing industry would also create effects for hospitality businesses, restaurants, equipment dealers and others related to the industry.


“If this bill passes, I can tell you there will not be a single racing kennel in the state of West Virginia,” Sarras said.